UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that there must be an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, as deaths and destruction mount.
“But above all, what we must – and I am repeating my appeal – what we must achieve is an immediate cease-fire,” Guterres told a special session of the General Assembly requested by Arab and Muslim nations.
He said it is urgent that the hostilities are de-escalated, to prevent what he said would become an “uncontainable cross-border security and humanitarian crisis.”
“Even wars have rules,” he said. “First and foremost, civilians must be protected.”
The death toll stands at 230 in Gaza, including 65 children, according to local health officials there, and 12 in Israel, according to its authorities. More than 58,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza.
“If there is Hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza today,” the U.N. chief said.
He urged the international community to help the parties “to step back from the brink” and ultimately revitalize the peace process as the only route to a permanent and sustainable peace in the form of two states living side by side.
About a dozen foreign ministers flew to New York for the meeting – the first time such a high-level, in-person meeting has been held at U.N. headquarters since the start of the coronavirus pandemic more than 14 months ago.
As the diplomats talked, there was more cross-border firing early Thursday. Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza City and the towns of Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas traveled to the region Thursday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He called the visit “a sign of solidarity with the people on both sides who fear for their lives day and night as Israel must defend itself against Hamas’ rocket terror.”
“It is about how the international community can contribute to an end to violence and a resilient cease-fire,” Maas tweeted. “And we need to talk about how to pave the way back to peace negotiations.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday rebuffed U.S. President Joe Biden’s call for “a significant de-escalation” in Israel’s bombardment.
Instead, Netanyahu said in a statement he is “determined to continue this operation until its aim is met.”
Netanyahu said he “greatly appreciates the support of the American president,” but that Israel will push ahead “to return the calm and security to you, citizens of Israel.”
The White House said President Biden told Prime Minister Netanyahu on Wednesday that “he expected a significant de-escalation today on a path to a cease-fire,” while Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, for the second straight day.
Austin, while affirming Israel’s right to defend itself, also “expressed again our deep concern over the loss of innocent lives,” according to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.
Netanyahu told foreign diplomats, “We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence.”
The Israeli leader pushed back against criticism of the Israeli air campaign, saying his forces are doing their best to avoid civilian casualties. He said Israeli forces try to use “great precision” to respond to attacks, but that they cannot prevent all collateral damage. The Palestinians have said Israeli actions amount to war crimes.
Hamas began firing rockets into Israel on May 10 for what it said were Israeli rights abuses against Palestinians in Jerusalem. Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel’s 21% Arab minority staged a general strike on Tuesday to protest violence against Arab Israelis and the planned eviction of some Arab families from their homes in East Jerusalem.