UN chief blasts Israel for ‘utterly unacceptable’ civilian deaths in Gaza

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres harshly condemned the Israeli government Sunday for its conduct in the Israel-Hamas war, as the civilian death toll in Gaza surpasses 25,000.

“Israel’s military operations have spread massive destruction and killed civilians on a scale unprecedented during my time as secretary-general,” Guterres said at a U.N. summit Sunday.

He reiterated calls for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire to relieve the suffering in Gaza, allow humanitarian aid to reach everyone in need, and facilitate the release of hostages, which should be immediate and unconditional.”

Guterres has repeatedly hammered the Israeli government for its conduct in the war, which began in early October following a Hamas surprise attack on Israel and has since developed into a full military invasion of the Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian civilian death toll reached 25,000 Sunday, the Gaza Health Ministry announced, with an additional 60,000 people injured, most of them women and children.

The Israeli military campaign in Gaza has been viewed by experts as one of the most destructive in modern history. Much of Gaza City, once the largest settlement in the region, has been completely flattened by months of airstrikes. The Israeli military has also targeted sensitive sites including cemeteries with bulldozers, according to satellite imaging.

Nearly the entirety of Gaza’s 2.3 million population has been displaced from their homes and requires humanitarian aid, the U.N. said, with disease taking hold as societal infrastructure breaks down. Last week, U.N. officials warned of the potential of mass famine.

Guterres has been one of the most vocal advocates for a cease-fire in the conflict, which both the Israeli government and Hamas leadership have resisted. A brief cease-fire in November saw about half of the approximately 240 hostages taken by the militant group released.

The Biden administration has ratcheted up pressure on the Israeli government to scale back its ground invasion of Gaza and to support Palestinian civilians. The administration has repeatedly emphasized that Israel must enable a Palestinian civilian government in Gaza via the Palestinian Authority, a proposition the Israeli government has adamantly refused.

Guterres called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of a two-state solution “totally unacceptable.”

The “denial of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security,” he said.

An increasing number of Democrats in Congress have also pushed the Biden administration to be harder on Israel amid rising discontent with the administration’s handling of the conflict.

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