As the conflict between Israel and Hamas militants continues to escalate, Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, is condemning both sides for the deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
In appealing for peace, António Guterres, a former Portuguese prime minister, has said both sides have violated international law.
He described as “appalling” the initial attack by Hamas on October 7, which killed 1,400 people, but went on to say, in an address to the UN Security Council, on Tuesday, that the Hamas attack did not justify the “collective punishment” of Gaza civilians with increasing bombardments by Israeli forces.
On Wednesday, following his remarks, a representative to the UN called for the resignation of António Guterres, while the Portuguese highest authorities, Presidente Marcello Rebelo de Sousa, Prime Minister António Costa, and Foreign Minister João Gomes Cravinho, stated that Portugal’s government supported António Guterres’ position on the Israel-Hamas war.
Guterres is deeply concerned that only a trickle of humanitarian aid, in the form of food, water and medical supplies, is being allowed in to the more than two million citizens crammed into the Gaza Strip, most of them, including children and women, now are homeless or hospitalized.
Many Gaza hospitals have had to close and United Nations aid workers in Gaza are finding it impossible to function because Israel continues to block all entry of fuel lest it gets into the hands of Hamas. Israel says Hamas has fuel and it should release it to those in need.
While the main front-page stories in most Portuguese national newspapers have been lately on the worsening conflict in the Middle East, the Portuguese Foreign Minister, João Gomes Cravinho, has stressed that the European Union must keep an eye on the war in Ukraine lest President Vladimir Putin becomes “a winner of the crisis in Gaza.”
This comes as the United States administration is whole-heartedly supporting Israel’s attempt to annihilate Hamas, which the US and the EU nations have branded a “terrorist” organization.
Washington has vehemently criticized Russia for indiscriminate attacks on Ukraine, but critics say it has expressed little about similar suffering in Gaza. As a headline in the New York Times put it: “Developing World Sees Double Standard in West’s Actions in Gaza and Ukraine.”
The US has reportedly advised Israel to delay a Gaza invasion, yet Israeli soldiers have already carried out limited ground incursions and there is no doubt that they are fully prepared and determined to carry out a full-scale invasion.
Israel is continuing to bomb and kill civilians in the south as well as the north of Gaza after telling the northern population to move south for safety. Nowhere is now safe and many citizens are returning to their homes in the north despite the relentless bombing there.
Nearly half of the population of Gaza is under the age of 18. The United Nations estimates that about 50,000 women are pregnant. The psychological as well as physical impact is truly dreadful.
Many countries on both sides of the conflict are warning that without restraint, the violence could quickly spiral and spread across the entire region.
Pro-Hamas Hezbollah militants in Lebanon have been increasingly exchanging rocket fire with Israel on Lebanon’s southern border. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has warned that Israel will meet further attacks from Hezbollah with “unimaginable devastation” that will “cripple” Lebanon.
Iran has warned that more Israeli hostility will make wider Palestinian military assaults inevitable while Netanyahu seems to be well aware of this and has said the war could go on for months, not just weeks.
Russia entered the fray by proposing that the United Nations Security Council adopt a motion for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The text did not include any mention of the Hamas. The proposal was vetoed by Western members of the council. Vladimir Putin met with China’s Xi Jinping, but neither condemned Hamas.
A few of the 222 hostages believed to have been taken from Israel to Gaza by Hamas, during their October 7 attack, have been released. One elderly Israeli woman said that, while she was abducted on a motorbike, she was beaten. “I’ve been through hell,” but she added that she had been treated well and given medical attention during her two weeks in captivity.
Guterres, who has appealed for the release of all the hostages, noted that while the abhorrent October 7 raid into Israel was unexpected, it was but another example of the division that has long existed between Israelis and Palestinians.
“The most recent violence does not come in a vacuum, but grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 50-year-long occupation and no political end in sight,” António Guterres said.
Len Port, born in Northern Ireland, worked as a news reporter and correspondent, mainly in Hong Kong and South Africa, before moving to Portugal many years ago.