Israel demands resignation of UN chief Guterres as Middle East tensions flare

Call caps day of heated exchanges at Security Council over violence threatening to spark regional war

The Israeli ambassador to the United Nations has demanded that the organisation’s secretary general Antonio Guterres resign for saying Hamas’s October 7th attack did not happen in a vacuum.

The call capped a day of heated exchanges at the UN Security Council over violence that threatens to spark a regional war.

Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan was responding to Mr Guterres’s speech at the opening of a Security Council meeting to discuss the Israel-Hamas war in which the UN leader said no Palestinian grievances can justify the Hamas attacks on October 7th, which killed about 1,400 people.

However, he added that “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.


“It is important to also recognise the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” he said, adding that Palestinians “have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.

Mr Guterres’s remarks prompted Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen to cancel a meeting with him. Mr Cohen gave a speech before the council in which he held up photographs of Israeli children held hostage, who he called innocent “victims of evil”.

He also played an audio recording which he said featured a Hamas terrorist boasting about killing Israelis, and identified people who were guests in the council chamber as relatives of Israelis killed or taken hostage by Hamas.

Mr Erdan later posted on social media demanding that Mr Guterres resign over what he called a shocking speech that “proved conclusively, beyond any doubt, that the secretary general is completely disconnected from the reality in our region”.

The exchange highlighted the tensions that have followed in the wake of the Hamas attacks and Israel’s air strikes in response, which Palestinian authorities say have killed more than 5,000 people. It also reflected the challenge facing Mr Guterres, who as head of the 193-member UN must represent both Israel and its allies, as well as adversaries such as Iran – not to mention countries such as Egypt and Jordan that recognise Israel but have criticised its policies.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken travelled to the UN for the debate and sought to shame those countries that have condemned Israel for its attacks on Gaza but refuse to speak out against the massacre against civilians by Hamas. He called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid to flow into Gaza.

“Where’s the outrage? Where’s the revulsion? Where’s the rejection? Where’s the explicit condemnation of these horrors?” Mr Blinken asked. But he also called for restraint, saying Israel has the right to defend itself, but “the way it does so matters”.

He also warned other forces in the region that may consider widening the war: “Don’t throw fuel on the fire.”

Delivering a warning to Iran, Mr Blinken said, “The United States does not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want this war to widen. But, if Iran or its proxies attack US personnel anywhere, make no mistake: We will defend our people, we will defend our security, swiftly and decisively.”

Later, Mr Cohen was yelled at when speaking at a demonstration in support of the hostages held by Hamas in front of the UN headquarters in New York. Protesters interrupted him several times with chants of “bring them home” and “bushah,” or “shame” in Hebrew. The families of many victims were in attendance.

During the UN session, Riyad al-Maliki, foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, denounced what he called the hypocrisy of governments that tout human rights but allow the dehumanisation and abuse of the Palestinian people.

“Israel is avenging against Palestinian women and children and the entire Palestinian people,” rather than targeting the perpetrators of the October 7th attacks, he said.

During Tuesday’s session, UN officials described a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, and repeated calls for an immediate ceasefire. They condemned the Hamas attacks but expressed alarm over the scale of the Israeli response and resulting civilian casualties.

UN officials urged Israel to restore water and electricity to Gaza that has been cut off and to allow the free flow of humanitarian goods. They warned against escalation or widening of the conflict.

“Any miscalculation could have immeasurable consequences,” said Tor Wennesland, the special coordinator for the Middle East peace process. – Bloomberg