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After brief condolences, UN head chides Jewish state, notes ‘legitimate’ Palestinian grievances

“This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum,” claimed António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general. “The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.”

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Saint Petersburg during an interview with Russian TV, June 1, 2017. Credit: Truba7113/Shutterstock.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres in Saint Petersburg during an interview with Russian TV, June 1, 2017. Credit: Truba7113/Shutterstock.

In January, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said during an International Holocaust Remembrance Day event that the international body was “founded upon the ashes of the Holocaust. It was established to ensure such darkness would never be felt by humanity again,” but “when it comes to fighting antisemitism, sadly, the U.N. ignores its purpose.”

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, was present at the time, and the U.N. point man on antisemitism, Miguel Moratinos, later told JNS that “Israel and the Jewish people are integrated in the essence, in the soul of the U.N. … I have to tell you, the U.N. is not antisemitic.”

In his remarks on Monday, two days after Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel—which Israeli President Isaac Herzog called the bloodiest day for Jews since the Holocaust—Guterres encapsulated the essence of the United Nations’ response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The secretary-general spent some 75 seconds condemning Hamas and calling on the terror group to release all of its hostages, even as he recognized “the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people.”

The rest of his five-minute remarks—after which he took no questions—castigated Israel for retaliatory strikes in its operation to decimate Hamas. The latter has led to hits on U.N. facilities, a residential tower and a mosque—all locations that Hamas has used as militant hiding grounds, operation centers and weapons depots. 

Guterres also chided Israel for its announced siege of Gaza, preventing the entry of electricity, food and fuel from Israel.   

“Medical equipment, food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies are desperately needed, along with access for humanitarian personnel,” Guterres said. He did not note the enormous funding that Hamas required to fund its terrorist operations over the weekend—funds that could have fed and provided for the needs of the Gaza population.

“This most recent violence does not come in a vacuum,” Guterres said. “The reality is that it grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.” 

The declared Hamas raison d’être is the complete eradication of Jews from the land of Israel and the establishment of a wholly Islamic state.

Guterres has been in touch with Israeli President Isaac Herzog and King Abdullah II, of Jordan, Guterres spokesman Stéphane Dujarric later told reporters. Dujarric said that the secretary-general was slated to speak to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati. 

The spokesman also announced that Tor Wennesland, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East peace process, had spoken with U.S., European Union, Egyptian, Qatari and Lebanese counterparts.

Weapons shelters

Dujarric told journalists of reports that Israeli airstrikes damaged two U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East schools in Gaza that a deconfliction mechanism is in place with Israeli authorities to protect U.N. infrastructure from targeting.

JNS asked Dujarric if U.N. personnel on the ground could use a similar process to alert Gazan civilians when militants are occupying U.N. facilities, placing those civilians in danger of targeted Israeli airstrikes. 

“We have made it perfectly clear that U.N. premises should obviously not be targeted but should not be used as offensive cover, so to speak. That message has been passed on over and over again,” Dujarric said. “It is not acceptable for U.N. premises to be used by armed groups to shelter weapons or to launch offensive [operations].”

No clear answer was forthcoming from the United Nations about how, if at all, its staff in Gaza can alert civilians seeking shelter in U.N. facilities that it is not safe to do so when militants, who are preparing attacks, are on site. 

In the past, Hamas and other Gaza terror groups have proven repeatedly to be unreceptive to U.N. suggestions.

Guterres was also critical of Israel’s counterterror operation in July to root out Hamas militants in Jenin who were responsible for a string of terror attacks. At the time, Guterres said Israel “obviously” used excessive force.

Given the barbaric nature of Hamas’s attacks on Saturday, what might Guterres deem a proportionate Israeli response, JNS asked Dujarric.

“It’s not for him to set a proportionate response,” Dujarric said. “If you look at what the secretary-general just said, I think you’ll find the answer to your question.”

A reporter for Chinese state television asked the spokesman if the United Nations bears responsibility for Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Hamas, given what he said was inconsistent U.N. language favoring Israel. A visibly-stunned Dujarric responded with an emphatic, “No.”

The spokesman did not say whether Guterres will still travel to the region—a trip that has long been reported to be planned for October or November. The United Nations had not confirmed that trip, however.

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