UN chief, at Gaza crossing, urges end to ‘nightmare’ of war

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, March 24 — UN chief Antonio Guterres, on a visit to the doorstep of Gaza today, appealed for a ceasefire to allow in more aid, saying the world has “seen enough” horrors in the Israel-Hamas war.

As Israeli forces pressed on with a multi-day raid on the territory’s biggest hospital, Hamas officials reported 19 deaths at an aid distribution point on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Gaza’s Hamas authorities said at least 19 people were killed and dozens wounded by Israeli “tank fire and shells” as they were waiting for desperately needed supplies.

The Israeli army denied it had fired on the crowd. “Preliminary findings have determined that there was no aerial strike against the convoy, nor were there incidents found of (Israeli) forces firing at the people at the aid convoy,” it said.

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In a similar scene earlier this month, the health ministry said Israeli fire had killed 20 people seeking aid in the same location, but the military accused “armed Palestinians” of opening fire on the crowd.

Nearly six months of fighting, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the besieged territory.

“Palestinians in Gaza — children, women, men — remain stuck in a non-stop nightmare,” Guterres said at the Egyptian side of Rafah border crossing with Gaza, the main entry point for aid.

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Most of the territory’s 2.4 million people have sought refuge on the Gaza side of Rafah, where Israel has vowed to send in ground troops in its war against Hamas.

“I carry the voices of the vast majority of the world who have seen enough,” Guterres said, deploring “communities obliterated, homes demolished, entire families and generations wiped out”.

This handout pictured released by the United Nations press office shows UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meeting with a Palestinian woman evacuated from the Gaza Strip receiving treatment at the general hospital in El-Arish in Egypt’s north-eastern North Sinai province on March 23, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

This handout pictured released by the United Nations press office shows UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres meeting with a Palestinian woman evacuated from the Gaza Strip receiving treatment at the general hospital in El-Arish in Egypt’s north-eastern North Sinai province on March 23, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the Palestinian territory between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

Hospital raid

He said “nothing justifies” the October 7 attack or the “collective punishment” of Palestinians, and asked Israel to commit to “total, unfettered access for humanitarian goods throughout Gaza”.

“A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates — the long shadow of starvation on the other” were “a moral outrage”, Guterres said.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz responded on social media platform X, saying that the UN under Guterres had become an “anti-Israeli body” and that Hamas “plunder” was to blame for aid shortages.

On the sixth day of Israel’s operation in and around Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital complex, the army’s Southern Command chief Major General Yaron Finkelman vowed to keep on until “the last terrorist is in our hands, alive or dead”.

Gaza City resident Mohammed, 59, who lives a short walk from Al-Shifa, told AFP he had seen “many bodies” in the streets, buildings on fire and tanks blocking the roads.

“I feel that Gaza has become worse than the fires of hell,” he said, giving only his first name.

The army has said more than 170 militants have been killed in and around the hospital, which was already raided by Israeli troops in November.

The army said the current operation avoided harm to civilians or medical personnel, but the UN humanitarian office OCHA said “health workers have been among those reported arrested and detained”.

The Israeli government is under growing international pressure to ease its bombardment and ground offensive, which the Gaza health ministry says have killed at least 32,142 people, most of them women and children.

The unprecedented Hamas attack on October resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures.

Israel has vowed to destroy the militants, who also seized about 250 hostages, of whom Israel believes around 130 remain in Gaza, including 33 presumed dead.

Efforts by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators to broker a ceasefire involving the exchange of some of the remaining hostages for Palestinians held in Israeli jails have made no headway.

Deep gaps remain between the warring parties, a Hamas official with knowledge of the talks told AFP today.

“There is a deep divergence in positions in the negotiations between Hamas and the occupation because the enemy understood the flexibility shown by the movement as weakness,” the official said.

Members of the Rabaya family break their fast amidst the rubble of their home, which was destroyed by an Israeli strike, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah on March 23, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

Members of the Rabaya family break their fast amidst the rubble of their home, which was destroyed by an Israeli strike, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in Rafah on March 23, 2024, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. — AFP pic

‘Nothing to eat’

Despite warnings that a Rafah operation would cause mass civilian casualties, Israeli officials said the military would press ahead with a threatened assault on the city, arguing it was necessary to eliminate Hamas.

“If we need to, we will do it alone”, without US support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after a Friday meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was on a regional tour to push for a truce.

Large parts of the territory have been reduced to rubble and the World Food Programme has said Gazans were already “starving to death”, with famine projected by May in northern Gaza without urgent intervention.

In Gaza City, in the north, Belal Hzilah said his nephew was among those killed at the aid distribution point as he was waiting to collect food for his two-month-old baby and other relatives.

“They have nothing to eat,” Hzilah told AFP. “He went to the Kuwait roundabout to get flour and food... He lost his life for nothing.”

Israel’s staunchest ally the United States, which provides it with billions of dollars in military aid, has become increasingly vocal about the war’s impact on civilians.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is to head to Washington today to discuss the latest developments with his counterpart Lloyd Austin and other senior officials. — AFP

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