The strongest neutral voice amidst the biased international clamor over the crisis in Israel and Gaza has been that of António Guterres.
The United Nations secretary-general and former Portuguese prime minister was quick to call on the Hamas militants to immediately release the 199 Israeli hostages they have seized and to ask the Israeli government to allow rapid and impeded access to humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilian citizens. He warned that the conflict could turn into a much wider war. “We are on the verge of the abyss in the Middle East,” he said.
President Joe Biden is visiting Israel to show staunch support for the country’s efforts to eliminate Hamas. Pressing for ways to reduce the suffering in Gaza seems to be very much a secondary objective.
A single event on Tuesday – an explosion at a hospital in Gaza that killed about 500 people – has made Guterres’ warning all the more likely. Israel insists the blast was caused by a misfired jihadist missile. Palestinian militants have blamed Israel for the explosion which sparked protests across the Arab world.
Political leaders in the Western World have condemned Hamas militants as “terrorists” while standing firmly by their “ally”, Israel, despite the atrocities it is committing.
The United States is sending military equipment and massive naval aircraft carrier forces to help the Israeli war effort. This is unlikely to do much to reduce the suffering in Gaza.
Iran, Lebanon and Syria have become a veiled threat to Israel in support of the Palestinians in Gaza. So has Russia’s Vladimir Putin who is refusing to condemn Hamas. China says there is no justification for an Israeli incursion.
At the start of the conflict on October 7, Hamas militants deliberately killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, including young people. Israel responded with relentless bombing of crowded homes in Gaza, the most densely populated place in the world.
Within little more than a week of its initial strike, Hamas had killed about 1,400 Israelis. More than 2,700 Palestinians had been killed in retaliatory airstrikes. Many thousands more have been injured and hospitalized.
Even some Western leaders were critical when the Israeli government demanded that everyone in northern Gaza and Gaza city move to the south and that patients and medical staff be evacuated from Gaza hospitals.
The Israelis blocked all essential supplies – food, clean water, electricity, fuel and medicines – going into Gaza while they continued their bombing and prepared for a mass land invasion in an attempt to annihilate Hamas.
The only escape route for fleeing Palestinians was into neighboring Egypt, but Israel bombed that too and it remained closed.
The almost unimaginable brutality of this sudden, unexpected war, which has killed babies and schoolchildren as well as civilian adults on both sides, has led a former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to reiterate that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will only be brought about with a two-state solution.
Guterres agrees and he and his senior UN colleagues want Israel to reverse course, saying that the evacuation demands could “transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”
Updated | 10/18/23
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.