Two days after Israel completed a counter-terrorism operation in Jenin—during which it seized bombs, guns and hundreds of thousands of shekels in terror funds—António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, blamed the Jewish state solely for using excessive force.
The U.N. leader was “deeply disturbed” by the operation, he said on Thursday at a press briefing at U.N. headquarters in New York City.
“Israel’s airstrikes and ground operations in a crowded refugee camp” were the worst violence in the area in years, “with a significant impact on civilians, including more than 100 injured and thousands forced to flee,” he added.
Guterres called on Israel “to abide by its obligations under international law, including the duty to exercise restraint and use only proportional force, and the duty to minimize damage and injury and respect and preserve human life.”
The airstrikes were “inconsistent with the conduct of law enforcement operations,” according to Guterres, who blamed Israel for disrupting utility services and for blocking access to medical care—both charges that Israeli officials vehemently deny.
When a reporter asked whether the criticism applied only to Israel or to the Palestinians as well, Guterres replied: “It applies to all use of excessive force, and obviously, in this situation, there was an excessive force used by Israeli forces.” He ignored a question about whether Israel had committed war crimes in Jenin.
‘Are the lives of Israeli civilians not important?’
The U.N. head’s remarks were “shameful, far-fetched and completely detached from reality,” said Gilad Erdan, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.
Jenin civilians fled their homes because Palestinian terrorists had seized them, and terrorist elements were using schools, hospitals and mosques as weapons caches and operational centers, Erdan said.
All of the casualties in Jenin were terrorists, he added. Hamas has claimed many as its members, and many have been photographed posting with heavy arms.
Some of the dozens, who were injured, were non-combatants, per the Israel Defense Forces. One Israeli soldier was killed in action.
“Why do you ignore the facts on the ground? Are the lives of Israeli civilians not important enough to justify fighting terror?” Erdan asked Guterres in a statement.
Guterres’s comments were “based solely on Palestinian lies,” Erdan added. “It was also clear that no effort was made to verify these falsehoods, nor was any attempt made to contact official Israeli sources for corroboration.”
The American Jewish Committee tweeted that it “strongly” rejects Guterres’s assertion of Israeli excessive force in Jenin.
“The facts speak for themselves: Responding to a wave of terror attacks directed from Jenin and in the midst of a densely populated area, Israel successfully completed its mission—seizing hundreds of explosive devices, shuttering weapons labs, neutralizing 12 terrorists in firefights,” the AJC said. “According to military sources, no civilians were killed.”
B’nai B’rith International also took Guterres to task. “Does the U.N. expect Israel to safeguard the lives of its own civilians by allowing Jenin to continue festering as a source of and haven for terrorism?” it tweeted.
“Sadly, vital Israeli counterterrorism must be respected as such, not delegitimized and misrepresented—just as fully legitimate and warranted defensive efforts by other democracies would,” B’nai B’rith added.