The British government firmly sided with Israel on Wednesday against the United Nations’ chief after he claimed violations of humanitarian law were being committed in Gaza and that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum”.
Home Office minister Robert Jenrick said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres should retract his comments if they were intended to partly blame Israel for the escalating crisis in the Middle East after Hamas’ mass slaughter of civilians on October 7.
“If he is referring to what has happened over the course of the last two weeks we don’t believe that Israel has broken international law,” Mr Jenrick told Sky News.
“There is a clear right in international law for a nation to defend itself and that is what Israel is doing.
“We do want to see Israel, wherever practicable and it’s immensely difficult to do, to surgically degrade and eradicate Hamas. That is what they are trying to do.”
Speaking later to LBC Radio, Mr Jenrick toughened his language, suggesting Mr Guterres should retract his comments which were “wrong”.
He said: “His comments implied that there was a justification for what happened in Israel two weeks ago.
“There isn’t, there can’t be, this is a murderous, barbaric terrorist attack on innocent civilians in a democratic country.
“No-one should even attempt to justify that.
“I hope that was not what he was intending, but if it was then he should retract those comments.”
At a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Mr Guterres pleaded for civilians to be protected in the war between Israel and Hamas terrorists, voicing concern about “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in the Gaza Strip.
More than 700 Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes in just 24 hours, Gaza’s health ministry said.
If confirmed as accurate, this would be the highest daily death toll since Israel unleashed a relentless bombing campaign to crush Hamas terrorists who massacred more than 1,400 people in Islamic State-style attacks on October 7, and took more than 200 hostages.
More than 5,700 people were reported to have been killed in Israeli air strikes in the besieged Gaza strip over the last two weeks.
This figure has not been confirmed but the large scale of the death and destruction is clear from video footage and photos from the enclave.
Mr Guterres stressed that at a “crucial moment like this,” it was vital to be clear that war has rules and that this started “with the fundamental principle of respecting and protecting civilians”.
He added: “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum. The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.
“But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Israel has angrily slammed the UN chief’s comments.
Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan described Mr Guterres’ speech as “shocking” and called on him to immediately resign, saying he “is not fit to lead the UN”.
Eli Cohen, Israel’s Foreign Minister, stressed there can be “no cause for such a massacre,” challenging Mr Guterres: “In what world do you live?”
The US has reportedly advised Israel to hold off on a planned ground assault of Gaza as Washington tries to free more of the 200-plus hostages Hamas is still holding captive.
Israel has ramped up air strikes on Gaza and clashes have intensified between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and resurged between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah armed terror group along the Israeli-Lebanon border.
Since October 7, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank clashes with the Israeli military, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah met top leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and discussed what their alliance must do to “achieve a real victory for the resistance”, Hezbollah said today.
The meeting involved Hezbollah’s Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri and Islamic Jihad chief Ziad al-Nakhala.
An Israeli attack on military positions in southwest Syria today killed eight soldiers and wounded seven more, the Syrian state news agency (SANA) reported.