UN secretary general António Guterres spoke this afternoon about the “serious risk to the maintenance of international peace and security”, citing the spillover of hostilities in “the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen”.
He has triggered Article 99, prompting a UN Security Council vote, because he believes this is a very urgent matter which must be brought to the attention of the council.
The Israeli government detests the UN and they detest the secretary general.
The Israelis rejected his description, claiming Mr Guterres is in fact the threat to world peace because he is pandering to Hamas by trying to end the fighting now, before their mission to destroy the group has been concluded.
That ill-feeling will not have improved after the secretary general also mentioned that one of the risks is that the situation in Gaza could get so bad that there would be a mass displacement of Palestinians over the border into Egypt – which is also of huge concern to the Egyptian government.
There was, Mr Guterres said, a high risk of the “total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza”. And the Palestinians say that is exactly what Israel wants because it wants to get all Palestinians out of Gaza.
Journalists are not permitted by Israel to enter Gaza so I can’t report from there myself, but what the secretary general is saying sounds pretty accurate from the pictures and video we can see and the people we speak to.
By all the measures you can think of, the situation there for civilians is absolutely catastrophic, as they are subjected to a remorseless military campaign. Israel says they are doing what they can to save civilian lives but insists Hamas holds responsibility for using them as human shields.
At the UN, the Americans are saying that they will most likely veto this resolution calling for a ceasefire. For those concerned about the significant loss of life, that does sound a bit hollow – the Americans claim the Israelis are saying they will stick to the rules of war and avoid unnecessary civilian deaths. But, they say, there is a gap between what Israel says and what it does.
I think the strategy behind the secretary general’s decision to bring a vote – which he knew would probably get vetoed – was to hurry up the inevitable moment when the Americans will say to Israel: “Enough is enough, you’ve had enough time and killed enough people and it’s time for a ceasefire.”
Some diplomats I have spoken to have said they might give the Israelis another month – I think Mr Guterres’s strategy is to try and shorten that, partly by increasing international pressure and also partly by shaming the Americans into thinking that they cannot continue to hold this position as it becomes less and less tenable.
That pressure has also increased today with the publication of footage of prisoners in Gaza, held by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), stripped to their underwear and being driven away in trucks. It’s a cruel image of war seeing these men, which local reports on social media suggest could be as many as 700.
Those same sources, including family of some of the men, say that they were taken from a UN school where they were sheltering, and where others tried to get away and were killed.
A horrendous video circulated yesterday of six people lying dead in the street – said to be from that same area and near that same school – and one of them was a bloody corpse lying on top of a white flag he had apparently been carrying.
The IDF say they are trying to work out who is a suspect and who is responsible for those terrible attacks on 7 October – and that they are all the while observing the international law on conflict.
But for those who have little sympathy for what Israel is doing, or have lost sympathy because of the level of killing that has been carried out in Gaza, those people are saying that this is another sign of Israeli indifference to the dignity and the health of Palestinians.
The weather is chilly here now, so being forced to walk around in underwear in streets, some blindfolded as we saw in the video, and some with their hands tied behind their back, is undoubtedly unpleasant.
The Israelis say they can’t avoid it – others say it’s pretty savage.