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25 Oct, 2023 14:57

Israel to block visas for UN officials

The row comes after Antonio Guterres said the Hamas attack did not happen “in a vacuum”
Israel to block visas for UN officials

Israel has announced it will refuse visa applications from UN officials in retaliation for comments made by the organization’s secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, who said this week that the attack launched by Hamas on October 7 did not occur “in a vacuum.” 

“Due to [Guterres’] remarks we will refuse to issue visas to UN representatives,” Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, told Army Radio on Wednesday. “We have already refused a visa for undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths. The time has come to teach them a lesson.” 

The Israeli diplomat claimed on X (formerly Twitter) that Guterres had “expressed a justification for terrorism and murder.” 

Erdan’s comments come amid fallout from Guterres’ speech to the 15-member Security Council on Tuesday, during which he appeared to express criticism of Israel for ordering the evacuation of civilians from northern Gaza to the south of the enclave.

The UN chief said that the Hamas attack earlier this month, during which around 1,400 people – mostly civilians – were killed, did not happen “in a vacuum” and that the Palestinian people have been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” 

Guterres also stated that Israel’s response to the attack effectively amounts to “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people – a war crime as outlined by the terms of the Geneva Convention.

Al Jazeera reported that while numerous countries have endorsed Guterres’ “very balanced approach,” Israel was “furious” and claimed that the statement served only to justify the attack by the Palestinian militant group. Israeli officials have also called upon Guterres to resign.

Early on Wednesday, Guterres posted a passage from his speech to social media in an apparent effort to display that he had offered criticism of both Israel and Hamas for their roles in the crisis. “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attack by Hamas,” Guterres wrote on X. “Those horrendous attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Addressing the situation later in the day, Guterres claimed to reporters that his speech to the Security Council had been distorted. “I am shocked by misrepresentations by some of my statement yesterday in the Security Council – as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas.”

The under-siege Gaza strip has been subjected to an unprecedented aerial bombardment by Israeli forces in the weeks following the October 7 attack. At least 5,700 people have died in the territory, according to recent estimates from Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is operated by Hamas. UK-based aid organization Save the Children said this week that more than 2,000 children have died in Gaza since the start of the renewed conflict.

Around 1 million people, just under half the population of Gaza, have been displaced during the violence, the UN said earlier this month. Israel is expected to launch a ground offensive into Gaza in the coming days or weeks, amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to eradicate Hamas.