The UN relief chief told ambassadors that any Gazans forced to flee the enclave must be allowed to return “as international law demands”, while a senior political affairs official warned that the cycle of violence over Red Sea shipping lanes risked major repercussions in Yemen and the wider region.
That’s a wrap from us at UN News on these latest emergency meetings called to address the widening crisis focused on the war in Gaza. Here are the key points from the afternoon:
- “Any persons displaced from Gaza must be allowed to return, as international law demands,” said UN humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths, reiterating his call for a ceasefire
- Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said “compelled evacuations, failing to meet the necessary conditions for lawfulness, therefore potentially amount to forcible transfer, a war crime”
- Council members pointed to a “catastrophe” in Gaza, with some calling for an immediate ceasefire and others worrying about the conflict’s spillover into the region
- “Silence is complicity,” said Algeria’s Ambassador, echoing calls for a ceasefire
- “The Palestinian people are here to stay; the lesson of the Holocaust is not that you should defend Israel when it is committing atrocities, but rather that one should stand against atrocities regardless of who commits them and who endures them,” said the Permanent Observer of the observer State of Palestine, adding that “this is a Nakba that the world is watching unfold”
- Israel’s Ambassador said “there is no forced displacement; Israel has no intention of displacing the population in Gaza”
- Senior official from the UN political and peacebuilding affairs department, Khaled Khiari, said escalating confrontation between Houthi rebels and a US-led coalition defending international shipping in the Red Sea was cause for alarm, urging de-escalation
- For summaries of this and other UN meetings, visit our colleagues at the UN Meetings Coverage in English and French
Houthi strikes, necessary and proportionate: US
US Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen overnight Thursday were to “disrupt and degrade” the group’s “reckless attacks” against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and in the Gulf of Aden.
These strikes were necessary and proportionate, she added, noting that “they were consistent with international law and in exercise of the US’ inherent right to self-defence, as reflected by Article 51 of the UN Charter.”
Informing the Security Council of the allies’ reasons for the strikes, she emphasized that no one is immune, including Russia, from the attacks perpetrated by Houthis against ships and vessels.
“So long as any one of our ships is vulnerable, all of our ships are vulnerable,” she said, noting that, since November, over 2,000 ships have had to be diverted in the face of Houthi threats and that the rebels have attacked and taken hostage mariners from over 20 countries.
She recalled this week’s resolution adopted by the Security Council that called on the Houthis to cease their attacks and condemned those that provided arms and assistance needed to carry out those attacks.
“This resolution also referenced the inherent right of Member States, in accordance with international law, to defend their vessels from attacks,” the Ambassador said.
“Yesterday’s strike was the latest in a series of actions taken in self-defence, taken by the US alongside other countries and one that occurred against a broad diplomatic backdrop of global condemnation,” she said.
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield emphasized that her country does not desire more conflict in the region.
“Our aim is simple: to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, while upholding the fundamental principles of freedom of navigation,” she said.
Mr. Nebenzia, Russia’s Ambassador, said that given the blatant armed aggression against another country, his delegation would have preferred to see the UN Secretary-General briefing the Council.
Yesterday’s aggression by a so-called “international coalition” saw attacks against Yemen and its people, with aircraft and sea vessels hitting multiple cities, bombarding airports and other infrastructure.
The same destruction has been unfolding in Gaza, with the war now spreading to the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, he said, adding that these massive strikes by the US and UK have “nothing in common” with the right to self-defence.
“The actions of the coalition violate Article II of the UN Charter,” he said. “The freedom of navigation is governed by the Law of the Sea.”
In this vein, a dispute should be filed to the appropriate body. In line with Russia’s consistent calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, he said the Council’s attempts to do so have been obstructed by the US, which had given a “twisted explanation” for its criminal acts in Council discussions on the resolution it adopted on the Red Sea.
The US and its allies have a record of gross violations, he said, adding that Washington is also covering up is actions in Syria with “a fig leaf”.
With regard to Gaza, he said the Middle East is now facing a critical situation.
“If the escalation continues, the region could encounter a catastrophe,” he said, adding that the responsibility for this should be on the US. As such, he called on the international community to condemn the attack against Yemen and for further global efforts to stop the violence in the Middle East.
Security of wider region increasingly at risk: Khiari
Khaled Khiari, Assistant Secretary-General at the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), said that the cycle of violence in Yemen and Red Sea risks grave political, security, economic and humanitarian repercussions not only for the war-torn and impoverished country itself but also the wider region.
“Recent humanitarian improvements in the country are fragile and could easily be reversed if there are further incidents, while progress on reaching a political settlement to end the war in Yemen could also be undermined, leaving the people of Yemen facing the impact of continued conflict,” he said.
On Thursday, US and UK military forces, supported by four other nations, reportedly conducted over 50 air and missile strikes on targets across Yemen, following attacks by the Houthi rebel group targeting ships and vessels in the Red Sea.
“These developments in the Red Sea and the risk of exacerbating regional tensions are alarming,” he warned.
“The Houthis’ attack following the adoption of the Security Council resolution and yesterday’s [Thursday’s] events further demonstrate that the region is on a dangerous escalatory trajectory which could potentially impact millions in Yemen, the region and globally,” Mr. Khiari added.
He also recalled the UN Secretary General’s call on all parties involved not to escalate the situation.
“All concerned parties must do their utmost to avoid further escalation, reduce tensions and exercise restraint,” Mr. Khiari said, calling on the Security Council to continue its efforts to prevent further escalation.
The meeting on the Red Sea crisis is now underway. Khaled Khiari from the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs and Peace Operations is going to brief on the issue.
This afternoon’s first meeting around the horseshoe table in the Security Council Chamber has just finished, but delegations are still in place to discuss the related escalation of violence besetting the Red Sea – a crucial international shipping lane that has recently been under attack by Houthi rebels on the coast of Yemen.
Just a few hours ago, the UN chief António Guterres urged all countries involved in trying to protect the waterway from the spillover from Gaza to avoid escalation following what the US and UK described as a defensive action taken to bomb Houthi positions overnight on Thursday.
The Secretary-General said the Houthi’s mounting attacks – there have been over two dozen in recent weeks – which the rebel group says are in solidarity with the Palestinian cause in Gaza, are unacceptable and must stop, in line with a resolution passed just a few days ago in the Security Council.
Israel has ‘no intention’ of displacing Gaza’s population: Erdan
Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said numerous UN meetings have been held and resolutions adopted, but not one condemned Hamas’s attacks and hostage taking. Similarly, there has been no meeting held to help free those kidnapped by Palestinian militants.
Israel supports efforts to supply humanitarian aid, he said. Hamas has not permitted the Red Cross to visit the hostages, he said, and the UN “can only unite on one thing: the demonization of Israel”.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority has failed to condemn the 7 October Hamas attacks.
For the past 76 years, Arabs have used every means to annihilate Israel, he said. There is not a single UN body that remains untainted by anti-Israel messages.
“There is no forced displacement,” he said. “Israel has no intention of displacing the population in Gaza.”
Some prefer spreading falsehoods over the truth, he said, pointing out that Pakistan is forcibly displacing thousands of Muslims from Afghanistan. Why does the forced displacement of Muslims from a Muslim country get little attention, he asked, answering: “no Jews, no news.”
Israel represents one tenth of one per cent of the global population. In 2023, the UN General Assembly passed countless resolutions on Israel, he told ambassadors.
One third of all commissions of inquiry the Council has established have focused on Israel, the only democracy in the region. South Africa’s case at the ICJ represents a dystopia in Israel’s view.
The case is “baseless”, he said, adding that the body that should be on trial is the UN, which has turned a blind eye to Hamas.
“Israel is fighting the most just war,” he said, adding that if there is a ceasefire, Hamas will continue its terror.
“The time has come to take back the UN to force this institution to live up to its founding principles,” he concluded.
‘Searching for life anywhere, met by death everywhere’: Mansour
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the Observer State of Palestine to the UN, thanked South Africa for presenting its case against Israel for alleged genocide in Gaza, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), stating that the lesson of the Holocaust is to stand against atrocities, regardless of the perpetrator.
He also called for an immediate ceasefire to prevent a regional escalation of the crisis, stressing the urgency of saving Palestinian children’s lives.
“Palestinians are searching for safety everywhere, finding safety nowhere. Searching for life anywhere, met by death everywhere,” he added.
He said Israel had “deliberately destroyed everything”.
“It killed and maimed our children, our doctors, our journalists, our engineers, our poets, our academics. It destroyed the very requirement of life and of a life in Gaza.”
Mr. Mansour went on to note that there have always been two visions to end the conflict. One upholds international law, ends the occupation, fulfills Palestinian rights and achieves a just and lasting peace based on UN resolutions.
The other is a supremacist, racist, criminal and delusional vision that somehow Palestinians accept death, exodus or subjugation, he argued.
Stressing that the Palestinian people are here to stay and that they have a right to live in freedom and dignity in their ancestral land, he said that this is the “only path” towards shared peace and security.
“All those who want to see shared peace and security should not spread fire; they must support an immediate ceasefire,” he said.
We must work towards Palestinian State: France
Nicolas de Rivière, Ambassador of France, which holds the Council presidency for January, spoke in his national capacity, saying efforts must focus immediately towards a lasting ceasefire, with the help of all regional and international partners.
“This is essential to enable the delivery of more humanitarian aid,” he said. “We must also remove obstacles to guarantee humanitarian access and fully implement resolution 2712 and 2720 of this Council.”
France will continue to provide humanitarian, financial and material aid to the civilian population, he said, reiterating his delegation’s call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.
“This Council must condemn in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks committed by Hamas and other terrorist groups on October 7, including sexual and gender-based violence used as a weapon of war,” he went on to say, adding that France will continue its action to establish sanctions against Hamas at the European level.
On the political level, France will continue to commit to the path of a rapid exit from the crisis based on the solution of the two States, both having Jerusalem as their capital, the only one that can make it possible to build a fair and sustainable peace,” he said.
“We must work to build a State for the Palestinians,” he said. “The Palestinian Authority has a central role to play in this process, in the West Bank as in Gaza, which aims to be part of this Palestinian State.”
Meanwhile, the Council recalled in its resolution 2712 that the forced displacement of civilian populations was contrary to international law. France also condemns the colonization policy, illegal under international law and a major obstacle to the prospect of a two-State solution, he said, emphasizing that it is crucial to avoid a regional conflagration.
‘Robust action’ needed to end the war: China
Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said Gaza is a stain on humanity’s conscience.
“Nearly 100 days into the ongoing Palestinian-Israel conflict, more than 23,000 people in Gaza and over 200 UN personnel and journalists have lost their lives…all of these are not just cold numbers, but the loss of human lives,” he said.
Some countries speak constantly about promoting human rights and preventing genocide, but continue to deflect attention from the situation in Gaza.
“This is double standard, he said. “We need robust action to end the conflict. Any forced displacement of Palestinians must be firmly rejected.”
All measures must be taken to alleviate the humanitarian disaster, and a ceasefire must be declared with the utmost urgency. Only a ceasefire can prevent the two-State solution from collapsing, he argued.
“We urge the international community, especially countries who have influence on the parties, to make the realization of a ceasefire, the overriding task,” he said.
No resettlement of Gazans: UK
UK Ambassador Barbara Woodward said her delegation firmly rejects any statements proposing that Palestinians should be resettled outside of Gaza, including those by members of the Israeli Government.
Alarmed by the record levels of extremist settler violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its devastating impact, she called on the Government of Israel to not only condemn settler violence but also take direct action against those responsible for it, hold them to account, and ensure that Palestinian civilians are protected.
The UK is also intensely focused on ensuring more aid gets into Gaza, she said.
“Ahead of a permanent ceasefire, we want to see immediate and sustained humanitarian pauses,” she said. This will allow for hostages to be released and more aid to enter Gaza. In accordance with resolution 2720, “we call on Israel to allow for higher volumes of humanitarian aid, through as many routes as possible,” she said.
Immediate ceasefire, now: Russia
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the catastrophic situation in Gaza can be seen in the thousands of deaths and people buried under the rubble, widely destroyed civilian infrastructure and the two million who have been compelled to flee for their lives.
Those who were forced to leave have found refuge in UNRWA facilities.
While the 7 October attacks are reprehensible, they cannot legitimize Israel’s use of the force in the Gaza Strip, he said.
As the Council still fails to shoulder its mandate to implement a ceasefire, he regretted to note that the United States has stymied efforts to do so.
Making life unbearable in Gaza leaves the Palestinians no choice, he said, warning that the current situation could have dire consequences for the whole world.
Efforts are underway to prevent the mass deportation of Palestinians from their land, he said, citing international law and emphasizing that occupying Powers have clear obligations.
Plans for flooding Gaza would make the enclave uninhabitable, he said, pointing to South Africa’s case filed in The Hague this week and others brought before the International Criminal Court. What is striking are media reports of the idea that Israel would convince countries to take in Palestinians, he said.
“Russia’s approach is unchanged; we want an immediate ceasefire,” he said, raising concerns about a spillover of the conflict in the region, including in Yemen. “Without an immediate ceasefire, the Middle East risks plunging into a full-fledged war.”
‘Work together to sow the seeds of peace’: US
US Ambassador and Permanent Representative Linda Thomas-Greenfield noted the humanitarian impact of the conflict precipitated by the 7 October terror attacks by Hamas and other militants.
With over 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza internally displaced, she said that the situation is “heart-breaking and untenable”.
“The US position has been clear and consistent – Palestinian civilians in Gaza must be able to return home as soon as conditions allow,” she said, noting that her country has also made it clear that “civilians must not be pressed to leave Gaza under any circumstances.”
“We unequivocally reject statements by some Israeli ministers and lawmakers calling for a resettlement of Palestinians outside of Gaza,” she added, noting that such irresponsible statements make it harder to secure a lasting peace.
She also questioned why some Security Council members “still cannot bring themselves” to condemn the terrorist attacks by Hamas, speak of the plight of hostages or censure the rocket attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah against Israelis.
“And why have some Council members refused to hold Hamas accountable for using civilians as human shields?” she asked, urging all Member States to speak out and press Hamas and Hezbollah to “do what is necessary” to end the violence and displacement they have wrought.
Condemnation of West Bank settler violence
Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield drew attention to an “unprecedented rise” in violence in the West Bank.
She condemned attacks by extremist Palestinian militants on Israeli civilians as well as the attacks by Israeli extremist settlers targeting Palestinians and their properties, displacing entire communities.
“The US strongly opposes the advancement of settlements in the West Bank, and we strongly oppose the violence that has come to characterize them,” she said. “At their core, settlements undermine the geographic viability of a two-State solution, exacerbate tensions and further harm trust between Israelis and Palestinians.”
‘Silence is complicity’: Algeria
Algerian Ambassador Amar Bendjama said shocking images are being beamed around the world on screens every day, without any meaningful response.
“What is happening in Gaza will remain a disgrace on the conscience of humanity,” he said. “Is it not enough to kill more than 23,000 people?”
The barbaric bombardment of the enclave and targeting of all signs of life in Gaza clearly “is a targeting of making Gaza uninhabitable” and kill the hope of returning home for Palestinians, he said, adding that this policy enjoys support from the occupying Power.
The goal is to terminate the Palestinian territory, he said, emphasizing that the plan of forced displacement is unfolding now throughout the Palestinian territory through bombardment.
“This plan is destined to fail,” he said. “There is no place for Palestinians except on their land. Any displacement of Palestinians is a clear violation of international law.”
As such, the international community and the Council must speak in one voice against the displacement of Palestinians, he added. “Silence is complicity,” he said, reiterating the call for a ceasefire.
Forcible transfer would be a war crime, warns senior human rights official
Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, began by highlighting what was “preventable” as the crisis deepens in Gaza and warned about the sheer scale of suffering.
Emphasizing the need for accountability for the 7 October terror attacks on Israeli civilians, she stated, “its horror will not be forgotten.”
She said that Gaza’s situation is not a mere by-product of conflict, but a direct consequence of the conduct of hostilities. She mentioned the displacement initiated on 12 October, with Israeli authorities ordering Palestinians north of Wadi Gaza to move south.
Despite Israel claiming it was for safety, Ms. Kehris raised concerns about compliance with international law, suggesting potential war crimes.
“Such compelled evacuations, failing to meet the necessary conditions for lawfulness, therefore potentially amount to forcible transfer, a war crime.”
‘Confusing’ evacuation orders
“In fact, these orders have often been confusing, requiring civilians to move to so-called ‘humanitarian zones’ or ‘known shelters’ despite the fact that many such areas have been subsequently struck in Israeli military operations and the lack of any capacity in the shelters to absorb more people,” she said.
Ms. Kehris further informed ambassadors of a “dramatic” rise in violence by Israeli settlers and Israeli security personnel in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and of statements by some members of Israel’s leadership pushing for the permanent resettlement of Palestinians overseas.
Such statements have “entrenched fears that Palestinians are being deliberately forced out of Gaza and will not be able to return; this must not be permitted,” she said.
Need for durable solution
In conclusion, Ms. Kehris stressed the immediate need for a ceasefire and the unconditional release of hostages as crucial steps towards a durable solution.
“We must also look towards what comes next; this current violence comes in the context of decades of human rights violations,” she said, adding that for any enduring solution to the crisis, the underlying root causes must be addressed, including “accountability for violations committed on and since 7 October and in the many years before”.
“Ensuring justice and that the rights of all peoples – both of Palestinians and Israelis – are respected and protected is the only basis on which an enduring peace can be built.” she said.
Any Gazans displaced must be allowed to return: Griffiths
Humanitarian affairs chief Martin Griffiths continued saying that efforts to send humanitarian convoys to the North have been met with delays, denials and the imposition of impossible conditions.
The lack of respect for the humanitarian notification system puts every movement of aid workers in danger, he said.
“Providing humanitarian assistance across Gaza is almost impossible,” he said. “Our access to Khan Younis and the Middle Area is largely absent.”
In these circumstances, the spread of hostilities further southwards would significantly increase pressure for the mass displacement of people into neighbouring countries, he said.
“I want to emphasize that any persons displaced from Gaza must be allowed to return, as international law demands,” he said, expressing deep alarm by recent statements by Israeli ministers regarding plans to encourage the mass transfer of civilians from Gaza to third countries, currently being referred to as “voluntary relocation”.
Any attempt to change the demographic composition of Gaza must be firmly rejected, he said.
While Gaza is the epicentre of this crisis, he said “let us not forget the 1,200 people killed, thousands injured and hundreds taken in the brutal attack by Hamas and other armed groups on Israel on 7 October, and the accounts of abhorrent sexual violence”.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced within Israel as a result of the 7 October attack by Hamas and other armed groups and due to ongoing rocket fire from armed groups in Gaza and Lebanon.
In this vein, he expressed continued concern about the risk of a further regional spread of this conflict.
Stain on our conscience
“What we have seen since 7 October is a stain on our collective conscience,” he said. “Unless we act, it will become an indelible mark on our humanity.”
People will continue to suffer and die from the rockets, the bombs, the missiles and the bullets and in increasing numbers from starvation, disease and exposure, he said.
“We cannot let this happen,” he said, reiterating his call for a ceasefire, for the Council to take urgent action to end the war.
He also repeated his call for far greater compliance with international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians and the infrastructure they depend on; the provision of essentials for survival; the facilitation of humanitarian assistance at the scale required; and the humane treatment and immediate release of all hostages.
‘Scenes of utter horror’ in northern Gaza: UN relief chief
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, is speaking first. He told ambassadors that what has been unfolding in Israel and Gaza is a war conducted “with almost no regard” for the impact on civilians.
Relentless military operations continue in Gaza, with tens of thousands killed and injured – the majority women and children.
“We can see it in the forced displacement of 1.9 million civilians, a staggering 85 per cent of the total population, traumatized and forced to flee again and again as the bombs and missiles rain down, and we can see it in the appalling conditions on ground: shelters overflowing, and food and water running out, with the risk of famine growing by the day,” he said.
Health system devastated
The health system is in a state of collapse. Now winter has arrived in Gaza, bringing with it bitter cold, exacerbating the struggle to survive. This makes it all the more deplorable that facilities critical to the survival of the civilian population have come under relentless attack, he said.
In total, 134 UN relief works agency, UNRWA, facilities have been hit and at least 148 UN personnel and non-governmental organization (NGO) staff have been killed in Gaza.
Humanitarian sites have been struck on numerous occasions, despite their identification and notification to the Israeli Defense Forces. In the last few days alone, two NGO premises have been hit.
Orders for evacuation are unrelenting. As ground operations move southwards, aerial bombardments have intensified in areas where civilians were told to relocate for their safety.
More and more people are being crammed into an ever-smaller sliver of land, only to find yet more violence and deprivation, inadequate shelter and a near absence of the most basic services.
“There is no safe place in Gaza,” he said. “Dignified human life is a near impossibility.”
France’s Ambassador, Nicolas de Rivière, is chairing the Council for the month of January, and he’s just gavelled it open.
Both of the senior UN officials will be briefing ambassadors via videolink, and they’re in vision already, waiting their turn to speak on a giant screen above the iconic horseshoe table.
Both Israel and Palestine are going to have the chance to speak, likely at the end of the meeting.
Relief chief Martin Griffiths along with Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for the UN human rights office (OHCHR) are expected to brief ambassadors at the open meeting, called for by new Council member Algeria, whose ambassador has made clear he intends to represent the Arab voice in world affairs at this crucial time on the Council.
The meeting comes as tensions and threats increase across the whole Middle East, with alarming exchanges of fire along the Israel-Lebanon border, as well as attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen on international shipping in the Red Sea.
On Thursday night, the United States and the United Kingdom retaliated against Houthi positions inside Yemen, an escalation that is directly linked to events inside Gaza as the rebels make common cause with Hamas.
Earlier this week, on Wednesday, the Council held closed-door consultations where it considered a report by the Secretary-General on the implementation of resolution 2712, which among other points, called for “urgent and extended” humanitarian pauses in Gaza, as well as an immediate release of hostages.
Also on Wednesday, the 15-member Security Council adopted a resolution strongly condemning the attacks by Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen. The resolution passed with 11 votes in favour, with four abstentions: China, Russia, Algeria and Mozambique.