main picturea-1701273588984
Tarek Al Anabi, a 25-year-old Palestinian man, gathers displaced children at the Taha Hussein school which is used as a temporary shelter, to give them English lessons, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 29, 2023, amid a cease fire following weeks of battles between Israel and Palestinian Hamas militants. Image Credit: AFP

UNITED NATIONS: Gazans are “in the midst of an epic humanitarian catastrophe before the eyes of the world,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday, while calling for an expansion of the current pause in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“Intense negotiations are taking place to prolong the truce - which we strongly welcome - but we believe we need a true humanitarian ceasefire,” he said at a United Nations Security Council meeting.

Also read

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki told the meeting that the Palestinian people “are faced with an existential threat” amid the conflict.

“We are owed respect to our inherent dignity... Israel has no right to self-defence against a people that it occupies,” he said.

The ongoing truce in the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas is scheduled to expire early Thursday after a six-day pause in the fighting, which was sparked by deadly Hamas attacks on October 7 that prompted a devastating Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip in return.

With 60 Israeli hostages and 180 Palestinian prisoners already released and more set to walk free on Wednesday under the agreement, conflict mediator Qatar said negotiators were working for a “sustainable” ceasefire.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said that “anyone who supports a ceasefire basically supports Hamas’s continued reign of terror in Gaza.”

After a 48-hour extension of an initial four-day truce, a new group of 12 hostages - 10 Israelis plus two Thais - was freed from Gaza on Tuesday, with 30 Palestinians released by Israel.

“I welcome the arrangement reached by Israel and Hamas — with the assistance of the governments of Qatar, Egypt and the United States,” Guterres said.

The truce has brought a temporary halt to the fighting that began last month when Hamas militants poured over the border into Israel, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping about 240.

Israel’s subsequent air and ground campaign in Gaza has killed nearly 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, according to Hamas officials, and reduced large parts of the north of the territory to rubble.

45% of homes damaged or destroyed

“Meanwhile, an estimated 45 per cent of all homes in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed,” Guterres said.

Several Arab foreign ministers also travelled to New York and were due to address the council later on Wednesday.

Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan accused the Arab ministers of supporting “a terror organization that aims to annihilate Israel.”

“Anyone who supports a ceasefire basically support Hamas continued reign of terror in Gaza. Hamas is a genocidal terror organization - they don’t hide it - not a reliable partner for peace,” Erdan told the Security Council.

Israel says Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostage in a surprise assault on Oct. 7. Israel has focused its retaliation against Hamas in Gaza, bombarding it from the air, imposing a siege and launching a ground assault.

“The truce must become a ceasefire, a permanent ceasefire. The massacres cannot be allowed to resume,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki told the Security Council.

“Our people are faced with an existential threat. Make no mistake about it. With all the talk about the destruction of Israel, it is Palestine that is facing a plan to destroy it, implemented in broad daylight,” he said.