U.N. Secretary General calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire as civilian death toll increases

Palestinians inspect their house, after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on May 16, 2021.
Said Khatib | AFP | Getty Images

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday called the violent conflict between Israel and Gaza militants “utterly appalling” and urged for an immediate ceasefire, as the worst outbreak of fighting in years stretches into seven days and takes a heavy toll on civilians.

“This latest round of violence only perpetuates the cycles of death, destruction and despair, and pushes farther to the horizon any hopes of coexistence and peace,” Guterres said during a U.N. Security Council meeting.

“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately. Rockets and mortars on one side and aerial and artillery bombardments on the other must stop,” he said. ”I appeal to all parties to heed this call.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said there will be no immediate end to Israel’s campaign against militant groups.

Israeli airstrikes killed at least 42 Palestinians, including 10 children, in Gaza early on Sunday, according to Gaza health officials, bringing the death toll in Gaza to at least 188 since the fighting began Monday. In Israel, 10 people have been killed in rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order. It will take some time,” Netanyahu said during an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I hope it won’t take long. It’s not immediate.”

A Palestinian man mourns over the bodies of member of the Kawlak family, who were killed in an Israeli airstrike overnight on Gaza City’s Rimal residential district, during preparations for their burial outside the Al-Shifa Hospital on May 16, 2021.
Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images

Israel and Hamas, which governs the Gaza strip, have both vowed to continue cross-border fire after Israel targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed some media offices . Hamas fired 120 rockets overnight in retaliation for the destruction of the al-Jalaa building, though many were intercepted.

“Our campaign against the terrorist organizations is continuing with full force,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech. “We are acting now, for as long as necessary, to restore calm and quiet to you, Israel’s citizens.”

Netanyahu argued that Israelis had received intelligence that the Gaza building housed Hamas military offices, but didn’t offer evidence. “It is a perfectly legitimate target,” he said of the building, adding that the military provided warnings to civilians to evacuate.

The AP has condemned the attack and demanded that Israel provide evidence that the building housed Hamas offices. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” AP said in a statement.

People rescue a wounded child from a debris as search and rescue works continue at a debris of a building after airstrikes by Israeli army hit buildings in al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza on May 16, 2021.
Ashraf Amra | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Guterres said the U.N. is actively engaging all sides toward an immediate ceasefire. “The fighting risks dragging Israelis and Palestinians into a spiral of violence with devastating consequences for both communities and for the entire region,” Guterres said.

“It has the potential to unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis and to further foster extremism, not only in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel, but in the region as a whole, potentially creating a new locus of dangerous instability,” he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Sunday did not call for a ceasefire but said the U.S. would offer support if the parties seek a ceasefire.

“The United States has made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices should the parties seek a ceasefire, because we believe Israelis and Palestinians equally have a right to live in safety and security,” Greenfield said at the U.N. security council meeting.

President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday to address the intensifying conflict. Biden’s envoy, Hady Amr, also arrived in Israel on Friday as part of the administration’s efforts to de-escalate the fighting.

An air bomb hits the Jala Tower during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021.
Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images

The president has reiterated his support for Israel’s right to self-defense against rocket attacks , but shared concerns with Abbas that “innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives amidst the ongoing violence,” according to a readout of the call released by the White House.

Biden on Saturday also re-affirmed a “strong commitment to a negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” according to a readout from the call with Abbas.

But fighting continues despite diplomatic efforts to end the conflict and avoid more civilian casualties.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-C.A., chairman of the U.S Committee on Intelligence, urged for a cease-fire during a Sunday morning interview on CBS.

“I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence,” Schiff said.

— Reuters contributed reporting

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Middle East security director on the continued violence in Gaza, Israel

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