Cease-fire Calls Dominate Fiery U.N. Security Council Session

Calls for a cease-fire dominated Tuesday’s daylong United Nations Security Council meeting on the Israel-Hamas war, with senior U.N. officials, foreign ministers of Arab countries and many other diplomats, including China and Russia, noting that the number of Palestinian civilians killed was mounting and that the humanitarian situation in Gaza was deteriorating rapidly.

Many speakers also denounced Hamas. The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, condemned Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 that started the war and demanded that all hostages taken that day be released.

But he also said that the attack on Israel had not happened “in a vacuum” and noted that Palestinians had suffered more than five decades of occupation and oppression by Israel, comments that drew sharp criticism from Israeli officials.

Mr. Guterres told the Council: “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

After those comments, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, called for Mr. Guterres to resign, saying in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that his remarks were “unfathomable.” And the country’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, forcibly pushed back on the notion of a cease-fire and canceled an afternoon meeting with the secretary general.

Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, spoke at a rally outside the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, during a break in a Security Council session. He also spoke to reporters outside the Council chamber.Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

There are “not two sides at this moment,” Mr. Cohen said to reporters outside the Council chamber. “There is only one side to support.” He said he had canceled his meeting with Mr. Guterres because “we need a clear and loud voice in regards to what happened. We are here to say ‘never again.’”

Mr. Cohen earlier began his address to the Security Council by holding up a collage of Israeli children killed by Hamas on Oct. 7. “I have to remember and never let you forget,” he said, calling the attacks “a wake-up call for the entire free world, a wake-up call against extremism and terror” and framing Israel’s battle with Hamas as a war of “the free world” against terrorism.

However, at the Council meeting, there were many calls to protect Palestinian civilians and provide them with humanitarian aid. The open-debate format of the Council allowed nonmember states to participate, and representatives of more than 50 countries spoke, many at the ministerial level.

Even representatives of some of Israel’s staunchest allies, including the United States, held that, while Israel had the right to defend itself, the way in which it did so must remain within the bounds of international law and with regard to the safety of noncombatants.

“It means Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians,” said the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken. “It means food, water, medicine, and other essential humanitarian assistance must be able to flow into Gaza and to the people who need them. It means civilians must be able to get out of harm’s way. It means humanitarian pauses must be considered for these purposes.”

Arab foreign ministers took a united stand with their Palestinian counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, saying outside of the Security Council chamber that their top objective was an immediate cease-fire and getting aid to flow, at scale, into Gaza. They warned that if the root causes of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were not addressed and resolved, it would feed more extremism that could risk engulfing the entire region.

The U.N. ambassador from Iran, which has close ties to Hamas and provides it with military and financial support, accused Israel of “apartheid policies” against Palestinians. The official, Saeid Iravani, called Israel’s strikes in Gaza a “brutal massacre.”

The foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt, which border Israel, delivered angry statements accusing the Security Council and Israeli allies of applying double standards and sending a message to the world’s two billion Muslims that their lives are valued less.

“Enough with the war, enough with the despair,” said Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, “enough with the oppression, enough with the killing, enough with the violence and enough with the double standards of international law.”

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