UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Israel vowed again to destroy Hamas, rejecting calls for a cease-fire from the U.N. chief, the Palestinians and many countries at a high-level U.N. meeting on Tuesday and declaring that the war in Gaza is not only its war but “the war of the free world.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also dismissed calls for “proportionality” in the country’s response to Hamas’ surprise attacks on Israel on Oct. 7 that killed 1,400 people and has since led to more than 5,700 Palestinian deaths in Gaza according to its Health Ministry.
“Tell me, what is a proportionate response for killing of babies, for rape (of) women and burn them, for beheading a child?” Cohen asked. “How can you agree to a cease-fire with someone who swore to kill and destroy your own existence?”
He told the U.N. Security Council that the proportionate response to the Oct. 7 massacre is “a total destruction to the last one of the Hamas,” calling the extremist group “the new Nazis.” He stressed: “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty.”
Cohen called the Oct. 7 attacks “a wake-up call for the entire free world” against extremism, and he urged “the civilized world to stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas.”
And he warned that today it is Israel, and tomorrow Hamas and the attackers “will be at everyone’s doorstep,” starting with the West.
Cohen also accused Qatar of financing Hamas and said the fate of the more than 200 hostages taken from Israel, some of whose families came to the U.N. meeting, was in the hands of its emir.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki demanded an end to the Israeli attacks.
“We are here today to stop the killing, to stop … the ongoing massacres being deliberately and systematically and savagely perpetrated by Israel, the occupying power, against the Palestinian civilian population,” he said. “Over 2 million Palestinians are on a survival mission every day, every night.”
Under international law, he said “it is our collective human duty to stop them.”
Al-Maliki warned that more attacks and killings and weapons and alliances won’t make Israel safer: “Only peace will.”
“For those actively engaged to avoid an even greater humanitarian catastrophe and regional spillover, it must be clear that this can only be achieved by putting an immediate end to the Israeli war launched against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “Stop the bloodshed.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened the monthly meeting on the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict — which has turned into a major event with ministers from the war’s key parties and a dozen other countries flying to New York — warning that “the situation in the Middle East is growing more dire by the hour.”
As the council met, a barrage of Israeli airstrikes across the Gaza Strip crushed multiple residential buildings and buried families under rubble. Nearly 90 countries were on the speakers list including about 30 foreign ministers and deputy ministers, many echoing calls for a cease-fire and halt to attacks on Palestinian civilians.
The U.N. chief said the risk of the Gaza war spreading through the region is increasing as societies splinter and tensions threaten to boil over. He called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to deliver desperately needed food, water, medicine and fuel. He also appealed “to all to pull back from the brink before the violence claims even more lives and spreads even farther.”
Guterres stressed that the rules of war must be obeyed.
He said the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify “the horrifying and unprecedented Oct. 7 acts of terror” by Hamas in Israel and demanded the immediate release of all hostages.
But Guterres also stressed that “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
He expressed deep concern at “the clear violations of international humanitarian law,” calling Israel’s constant bombardment of Gaza and the level of destruction and civilian casualties “alarming.”
Protecting civilians “is paramount in any armed conflict,” he said.
Without naming Hamas, the U.N. chief stressed that “protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields.”
Guterres also criticized Israel without naming it, saying “protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself.”
Cohen, in his address to the council, criticized the secretary-general’s remarks. After being told by a reporter at a stakeout later that the secretary-general stood by his statement, the Israeli minister said: “There is no cause for this, and shame on him.”
Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan went further, taking issue especially with Guterres’ statement that it’s important to recognize that “the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.”
He accused the secretary-general of having lost “all morality and impartiality” and called for his resignation.
By contrast, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking for Israel’s closest ally, thanked the U.N. chief “for your leadership in this incredibly challenging time, particularly in getting humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.”
He stressed Israel’s right to defend itself “against terrorism” but also called for protection of Palestinian civilians saying: “We know Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people and Palestinian civilians are not to blame for the carnage committed by Hamas.”
He said “Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians” and “humanitarian pauses” must be considered to get aid flowing into Gaza and enable civilians “to get out of harm’s way.”
Blinken told the council all countries are determined to prevent the conflict from spreading, saying a broader conflict “would be devastating, not only for Palestinians and Israelis but for people across the region and indeed around the world.”
He warned Iran — which supports Hamas, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen — that while the U.S. doesn’t seek a conflict, it will respond “swiftly and decisively” to any attack on U.S. personnel by its forces or its proxies anywhere in the world.
Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Amir Iravani later accused Blinken of “wrongly” attempting to blame Iran for the Hamas attack, rejecting his “groundless allegations” and saying the Islamic Republic is committed to regional peace and security, and supports the call for an immediate cease-fire.
He echoed secretary-general Guterres’ statement that the Oct. 7 attack didn’t happen in a vacuum and claimed the U.S.’ “unwavering support” for Israel and its rapid provision of military and logistical support “made the U.S. complicit in the brutal massacre of innocent Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”
Iravani also claimed that Israel, as an occupying power, has no right to self-defense in Gaza under the U.N. Charter. But he said the Charter does recognize the right to self-determination and self-defense for the Palestinian people, which Iran supports, “including resistance groups like Hamas, in the struggle against Israeli occupation.”
The United States is pushing for adoption of a resolution that would condemn the Hamas attacks in Israel and violence against civilians, and reaffirm Israel’s right to self-defense. There were some expectations that it might be voted on Tuesday, but diplomats said it was still being negotiated.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council Moscow rejects the U.S. draft and is demanding an immediate ceasefire. The U.S. draft does not mention a cease-fire and Nebenzia said Russia is putting forward its own new proposed resolution.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, speaking on behalf of the 22-memeber Arab Group at the United Nations, accused Israel of waging a war that is killing innocent civilians and “razing Gaza to the ground” in violation of international law “without any deterrent.”
“And the Security Council didn’t even call for a cease-fire,” he said, urging the U.N. body charged with maintaining international peace and security to adopt a resolution to stop the war, condemn the killing of civilians on both sides, and prevent the starvation of Palestinians and their collective punishment.
“The Security Council must take a clear stance to reassure two billion Arabs and Muslims that international law will be applied,” Safadi said.