Gaza is “becoming a graveyard for children,” the United Nations chief warned on Monday as the death toll rises and calls grow around the world for a ceasefire, one month into Israel’s assault on Hamas – the militant group that runs the enclave.
“The nightmare in Gaza is more than a humanitarian crisis. It is a crisis of humanity,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters in New York, adding that the need for a ceasefire is becoming “more urgent with every passing hour.”
“The parties to the conflict – and, indeed, the international community – face an immediate and fundamental responsibility: to stop this inhuman collective suffering and dramatically expand humanitarian aid to Gaza,” he said.
His comments come four weeks after Israel declared war on Hamas, following the Islamist militant group’s brutal attack on October 7 that killed 1,400 people in Israel and saw about 240 others kidnapped.
Israel retaliated by launching an air and ground offensive on Gaza, vowing to eliminate the militant group.
From the start, global aid organizations and rights groups have warned that such an assault would be catastrophic for Gaza, which has been cut off from much of the world for nearly 17 years. A blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt meant severe restrictions on the movement of goods and people – contributing to widespread poverty, hunger and dependency on international aid.
The devastation of Israel’s attacks on Gaza is now becoming apparent, with the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave saying Monday that more than 10,000 people have been killed since the war began. That includes more than 4,100 children and 2,600 women, the ministry said.
Around 1.5 million Gaza residents are now displaced – 70% of the population – with most living in crowded UN shelters, said Tamara Alrifai, spokesperson for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) on Monday.
Many evacuated their homes in the north after being warned by Israel to leave immediately; others were left homeless by relentless airstrikes that have razed buildings across the Gaza Strip.
A separate statement from the UNRWA described conditions in its shelters as “inhumane,” amid a lack of clean water and sanitation. In the Khan Younis Training Centre, where 22,000 have sought shelter, at least 600 people are sharing one toilet, the UNRWA said.
Thousands of cases of skin infections, diarrhea, chicken pox and other diseases have been detected, spread by people living in uncomfortably close quarters, it added.
Decomposing bodies trapped under collapsed buildings also present a health risk to survivors, the UNRWA said.
Emily Callahan, an American nurse who managed to leave Gaza last week, described seeing horrific injuries at the Khan Younis center and other shelters.
“There were children with just massive burns down their faces, down their necks, all over their limbs, and because the hospitals are so overwhelmed, they are being discharged immediately after,” she said.
“They are being discharged (from hospitals) to these camps with no access to running water … They are given two hours of water every 12 hours.”
In pictures: Israel at war with Hamas
Israel rejects calls for ceasefire
The Gaza crisis and mounting horror from international observers has put pressure on Western leaders to use their influence to ease the crisis.
On Monday, the UN Security Council failed to reach consensus on a draft resolution aimed at halting the ongoing conflict. The Deputy US Ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said no progress had been made, stating: “Israel will do what it feels.”
One sticking point has been language in the resolution that calls for an immediate ceasefire – which is supported by several members of the Council, but opposed by the US and United Kingdom, which both hold veto power.
Previous attempts to pass resolutions in the Security Council have faced challenges, including two US vetoes, further underscoring the complexity of reaching a consensus on this critical issue.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh, who co-initiated the meeting with China, underlined that discussions are ongoing within the council. “We are working night and day on it; too many people have lost their lives including far too many humanitarian workers and UN workers,” she said.
She also announced that the UAE will take in 1,000 Palestinian children who require medical treatment along with their families for rehabilitation, and there would be “regular briefings, meetings” within the Security Council to “keep the spotlight on this very, very critical humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding on the Gaza Strip.”
In an interview with ABC News on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared there would be “no ceasefire, general ceasefire, in Gaza without the release of our hostages.”
However, he said he was open to short pauses taking place – “an hour here, an hour there … in order to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave.”
Some limited aid has been able to enter Gaza through Egypt via the Rafah crossing, the only remaining border point not controlled by Israel. But it’s still far from enough – more than 400 trucks of aid have crossed in the last two weeks, compared to 500 a day that used to enter Gaza before the war broke out, said Guterres.
The current “trickle of assistance does not meet the ocean of need,” he added, announcing that the UN and its partners are launching a $1.2 billion humanitarian appeal to help the entire population of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Guterres also reiterated his condemnation of the Hamas October 7 attacks and called for the release of hostages.
In response to Guterres’ comments, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called for his resignation, accusing him of making “the false immoral comparison between a brutal terrorist organization that commits war crimes and a law-abiding democracy.”