UN chief, at Gaza crossing, urges end to 'nightmare' of war – as it happened

Ahram Online , Saturday 23 Mar 2024

UN chief Antonio Guterres, on a visit to the doorstep of Gaza Saturday, appealed for a ceasefire to allow in more aid, saying the world has "seen enough" horrors in the Israeli war on Gaza, which has now stretched into its 169th day.

In this aerial view, Palestinians assess the destruction of a house hit by Israeli bombardment in the northern part of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. AFP

As Israeli occupation 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, by Israeli tank fire and shells as they were waiting for desperately needed supplies.

In a similar scene earlier this month, the health ministry said Israeli fire had killed 20 people seeking aid in the same location. 

"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.

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".


23:00 Deep differences exist between Hamas and Israel in negotiations for a Gaza truce, an official from the Palestinian militant group with knowledge of the talks told AFP on Saturday.

The difficult talks over a ceasefire and possible exchange of captives and prisoners resumed in Doha this week, with Israel's spy chief joining Egyptian, Qatari, and US mediators.

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

The official added that "the enemy wants to reach a temporary ceasefire after which it can resume its aggression against our people."

Israel "refuses to agree on a comprehensive ceasefire and refuses the complete withdrawal of its forces from Gaza," the official said.

The official added that Israel had indicated it wanted to keep matters of relief, shelter, and aid under its control, and demanded: "the United Nations not return to work, especially in the northern Gaza Strip."

22:30 Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant will leave Sunday for talks in the United States, amid growing tensions between the two allies over the war in Gaza.

Gallant will meet with US counterpart Lloyd Austin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, "and additional senior officials," a statement said.

The visit comes after Blinken's latest whistle-stop tour of the region, during which he warned that an Israeli war on the southern Gaza city of Rafah would be a "mistake" that "risks further isolating Israel around the world." 

22:00 A vessel was struck Saturday by "an unidentified projectile" off Yemen, the British Navy's United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations said.

The hit caused a fire that was "successfully extinguished," and both the vessel and the crew were "reported safe," UKMTO said, adding the ship was on its way to its next port of call.

Yemen's Houthi rebels have intensified their attacks on Red Sea shipping, which began in response to Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

20:00 The Palestinian health ministry says Israeli fire killed nine people and wounded dozens more as they were waiting at an aid distribution point in the territory's north.

"At least nine martyrs and dozens were injured by Israeli occupation army tank fire and shells. They were waiting for aid trucks at the Kuwait roundabout" on the outskirts of Gaza City, a health ministry statement said.

19:00 Israel's foreign minister accused the United Nations of being an "anti-Israeli body" under Antonio Guterres, as the UN chief called for a ceasefire on a visit to Gaza's border Saturday.

"Under his leadership, the UN has become an anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli body that shelters and emboldens terror," Foreign Minister Israel Katz said on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel has consistently criticized the UN and its various bodies, often attempting to silence critical voices that condemn its practices against Palestinians. Many of these criticisms revolve around accusations of human rights violations in its occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

18:00 Speaking at Egypt's Al-Arish Airport, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there was a clear international consensus that any ground assault on Rafah would cause a humanitarian catastrophe.

“Any further onslaught will make things even worse – worse for Palestinian civilians, worse for hostages, and worse for all people in the region," Guterres said.

The UN chief repeatedly noted the difficulties of getting aid into Gaza, for which international aid agencies have largely blamed Israel.

“Here from this crossing, we see the heartbreak and heartlessness … a long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other,” he said.

He added: “It is time for an ironclad commitment by Israel for total … access for humanitarian goods to Gaza, and in the Ramadan spirit of compassion, it is also time for the immediate release of all hostages.”

17:00 A top Israeli commander has said troops will continue their attack on Gaza's largest hospital Al-Shifa, which has been under Israeli military siege for the sixth day in a row.

Israeli occupation forces launched a military raid in and around Al-Shifa hospital on Monday, claiming senior Hamas operatives were based at the sprawling compound.

Israel says it has killed more than 170 people in its raids and attacks around the complex, with the Palestinian health ministry reporting that five patients have also died.

Sources reported that the Israeli army is detaining about 240 patients along with their caregivers, in addition to 10 healthcare workers inside the complex, under harsh conditions without water, food, or health services, WAFA news agency reported.

A large number of the wounded are facing dire conditions inside the complex and worms have begun to emerge from their wounds, added the sources.

Medical personnel and patients urgently appealed to all UN institutions and the international community to immediately intervene to save their lives.

15:50 There is no justification for collective punishment of the Palestinian people, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said during a visit to the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on Saturday.

The UN chief said he came to the Egyptian city of Rafah "carrying the voices of the vast majority of countries in the world who are fed up with what is happening" in Gaza.

Palestinian children, women, and men are living an "endless nightmare," he added, reiterating his call for an immediate ceasefire and urging Israel to show commitment to international humanitarian law.

“Homes have been demolished and entire families and generations have perished as famine besieges the population,” he told the reporters in front of the gate of the crossing, the only direct access between Egypt and Gaza.

Guterres stressed that a long line of blocked relief trucks on Egypt's side of the border with the Gaza Strip where people face starvation, is a moral outrage.

"Here from this crossing, we see the heartbreak and heartlessness of it all. A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other," he said. "That is more than tragic. It is a moral outrage,” he continued.

“It is time for a firm commitment from Israel to allow aid to reach all parts of Gaza, as well as the immediate release of all prisoners,” he noted.

Making a clear reference to Israel’s plan to storm the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the UN chief warned of the consequences of such a step at all levels.

"Any further onslaught against the Gaza Strip will make scenes even worse," he added.

It is time for Israel to give an "ironclad commitment" for unfettered access to humanitarian goods throughout Gaza, said Guterres.



15:01 The Palestinian health ministry said that Israel has killed at least 32,142 people in Gaza during more than five months of war on the territory.

The toll includes at least 72 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 74,412 people have been wounded.


14:30 The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 32,142 people have been killed in the territory during more than five months of the Israeli war on Gaza.

The toll includes at least 72 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said, adding that 74,412 people have been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began on October 7.


14:40 UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Egypt Saturday, set to visit the border with war-ravaged Gaza just across from the crowded city of Rafah where Israel vows to send in ground troops.

Despite warnings that such an operation would cause mass civilian casualties and worsen the humanitarian crisis gripping Gaza after nearly six months of war between Israel and Hamas militants, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will press ahead with the attack.

But his government is under growing international pressure to ease its bombardment and ground offensive, which the health ministry in Gaza says has killed more than 32,000 people.

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

Israel's most staunch ally the United States, which provides it with billions of dollars in military aid, has repeatedly blocked Gaza ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council.

But Washington has also become increasingly vocal about the war's impact on civilians. On Friday it tried to pass a text mentioning an "immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal", but China and Russia vetoed the US text.

Guterres landed early Saturday in El-Arish, the Egyptian city closest to the Gaza border. He was expected to travel to the Egyptian side of Rafah to meet aid workers and reiterate his call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

13:55 Palestine Red Crescent ambulance teams evacuated a martyr and six injured individuals from the Abu Al-Ajin area, situated east of Deir Al-Balah city in the central Gaza Strip, in the aftermath of Israel's artillery shelling targeting civilians.

13:40 "Israel Massacres" israel-massacres.com is a newly established website created amidst the Israeli war on Gaza, to document what many authorities around the world are denouncing as "war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and genocide" against Palestinians.

"We aim to give a voice to the voiceless and raise awareness of the urgent need for international action to ensure the Palestinian people are finally liberated from brutal occupation and colonization," the site states, emphasizing that "Israel’s ongoing apocalyptic military campaign against Gaza compounds over 75 years of persecution, displacement, and terrorism inflicted upon Palestinians."

The website also compiles statements from Israeli leaders and opinion shapers, both past and present, that "are by no means exhaustive, and reveal the genocidal intent behind the current military onslaught against the Palestinians."

13:29 Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), said that Israel "denied another UNRWA convoy with much-needed food supplies from going to the north where people are on the verge of famine."

"For the 2nd time this week, a food convoy has been denied to northern Gaza," he wrote on X.

The last time UNRWA was able to send food aid to the north was nearly two months ago.

"I’ve said it many times: this is a man-made hunger & looming famine which can still be averted," Lazzarini added.

"The Israeli Authorities must allow delivering food aid at scale to the north including via UNRWA, the largest humanitarian organization in Gaza. Meanwhile, children will continue to die of malnutrition & dehydration under our watch. The unbearable cannot become the new normal."


13:20 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire in the Gaza Strip as he arrived in the Egyptian city of Arish in North Sinai, for his second visit since the eruption of the Israeli war.

During his visit to Arish General Hospital, Guterres met with injured Palestinians, expressing his appreciation for Egypt's efforts in receiving wounded Palestinians and delivering relief aid to Gaza.

He emphasized the urgency of allowing humanitarian aid trucks piled up on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing to enter the strip as soon as possible, reported the Egyptian state news agency MENA.


13:16 The Israeli army has once again opened fire on Palestinians seeking aid at the Kuwait roundabout in Gaza City, killing at least seven citizens and wounding others.

Local sources reported that the occupation military tanks and warplanes targeted a group of civilians who were waiting for an aid truck.

While the occupation authorities continue to prevent and obstruct the arrival of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, especially to the northern regions, they target starved civilians who are trying to obtain the aid that arrives, such as bags of flour or canned goods.

Dozens of casualties have been transported to Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital.


13:04 The Joe Biden administration is concerned about Israel's "major strategic error" in Gaza and its repercussions for Washington and Tel Aviv, according to a State Department memo obtained by National Public Radio (NPR).

The US State Department memo is related to a phone call between Assistant Secretary of State Bill Russo and Israeli foreign ministry officials on March 13, when Russo warned that the two sides are facing a "major credibility problem" because of the "unpopular" war on Strip.

The memo says the war has inflicted "major damage" to Israel’s reputation worldwide, which could last for generations but the regime’s officials are currently unaware of it.

“The Israelis seemed oblivious to the fact that they are facing major, possibly generational damage to their reputation not just in the region but elsewhere in the world.”

“We are concerned that the Israelis are missing the forest for the trees and are making a major strategic error in writing off their reputation damage”, the State Department memo cautioned, recommending pressing Israeli regime officials on the issue “at the highest levels”.

12:37 US Senator Chris Van Hollen said, "He said that the claims against UNRWA are a flat-out lie."

Van Hollen added that Israel's Prime minister "Netanyahu wanted to get rid of UNRWA since at least 2017, not just in Gaza."

He dismantled Israel's accusations against the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, saying "If you look at the person who's in charge of operations on the ground in Gaza for UNRWA, it's about a 20-year former US Army veteran. You can be sure he's not in cahoots with Hamas."


12:14 Two people have been killed and several wounded in an Israeli strike on the Abu Miri roundabout east of Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera reported.

Israeli jets also bombed several tents sheltering displaced Palestinians in the area.


11:54 The US army said it had struck three underground storage facilities used by Yemen's Houthis, as the rebels continue to launch attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, against the backdrop of the Israeli war on Gaza.

US forces "conducted self-defense strikes against three Houthi underground storage facilities," Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement.

It said US forces had also "successfully engaged and destroyed four unmanned aerial vehicles" in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen throughout Friday, while also registering four anti-ship ballistic missiles fired by the Houthis toward the Red Sea.

"There were no injuries or damage reported by US, coalition, or commercial ships," CENTCOM said.

The Houthis began attacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea in November, a campaign to signal solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

They have vowed to target Israeli, British, and American ships, as well as vessels heading to Israeli ports, disrupting traffic through the vital trade route off Yemen's coasts.

The attacks have sent insurance costs spiraling for vessels transiting the Red Sea and prompted many shipping firms to take the far longer passage around the southern tip of Africa instead.

11:25 United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has arrived at Arish Airport in North Sinai in Egypt.

During his visit, Guterres plans to reiterate his call for a humanitarian ceasefire, though renewed international pressure has so far failed to dissuade Israel from the planned ground offensive in Rafah, where most of Gaza's population has taken shelter.

Despite warnings that such an invasion would cause mass civilian casualties and worsen the humanitarian crisis gripping the territory, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he must press ahead with the attack.

"I hope to do that with the support of the United States, but if we need to, we will do it alone," Netanyahu told visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday.

10:04 Martin Griffiths, the UN relief chief, said unequivocally that Israel is the party responsible for obstructing aid to Gaza.

He emphasized: "There has been a lot of debate and finger-pointing about the challenges to getting aid to people in need in Gaza."

"Limits to aid distribution within Gaza are set by those who block the movements of convoys meant to feed tens of thousands of critically hungry people,"  Griffiths said in a post on social media platform X.

"They are set by those who denied the access of every fifth humanitarian mission to northern Gaza in the first half of March." 

"They are set by those who block the entry of lifesaving supplies for hospitals and water purification," Griffiths said. 



10:00 The Israeli violence continued, particularly around Gaza's largest hospital complex, Al-Shifa, where Israeli forces said they killed more than 150 Palestinians and arrested hundreds.

The horror continues to unfold as testimonials emerge. A video released by Al Jazeera depicts an injured patient at the hospital entrance being crushed to death by Israeli tanks.

Mohammed Zaher Al-Nono, a staff member at the hospital, refused to evacuate and insisted on treating the wounded. Witnesses and media sources report that he was executed by Israeli army forces in front of his patients as an act of retaliation.

Medical sources from within Al-Shifa Hospital reported that the Israeli army conducted numerous executions within the hospital corridors, according to Palestinian media.

They further said that the Israeli army set fire to all floors of the Specialized Surgery Building.

Israeli soldiers also burned medicine stores and forcibly relocated patients and displaced individuals to the Prince Nayef building, an old and dilapidated structure now inaccessible to medical staff.

International efforts to pause the almost six months of the Israeli war on Gaza have grown increasingly desperate, with the health ministry reporting 32,070 people killed as of Friday and experts warning the entire population is teetering on the brink of famine.

The ministry reported early Saturday morning another 67 Palestinians were killed overnight, including 10 in a strike on a family home north of Gaza City.

"This is a man-made catastrophe," the head of the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini wrote on social media platform X. He added that a ceasefire and "flooding Gaza with food + lifesaving goods" was the only solution.

The latest bid for a Security Council resolution on an "immediate" ceasefire failed on Friday as China and Russia vetoed the American proposal, which Arab governments said was too weak.

Diplomatic sources said that a vote on a new ceasefire text, initially planned for Saturday, would be postponed until Monday to allow for further discussions.



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