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Public order in Gaza likely to break down — UN chief

By AFP - Dec 07,2023 - Last updated at Dec 08,2023

Palestinians children who fled Khan Yunis play atop a pile of sand as others set up camp in Rafah further south near the border with Egypt, on Thursday (AFP photo)

UNITED NATIONS, United States — The UN secretary-general, warning he expects public order in Gaza to break down completely and soon, struck a rare and powerful alarm bell in a letter on Wednesday to the Security Council.

Antonio Guterres said he was invoking Article 99 of the UN's charter, which states that "the secretary-general may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security".

While repeating his call for a "humanitarian cease fire", Guterres wrote that the humanitarian conditions amid the Hamas-Israel war are "fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole".

"Amid constant bombardment by the Israeli forces, and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible," he said.

"An even worse situation could unfold, including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into neighbouring countries."

The secretary-general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, called the move "very dramatic", noting that Article 99 hadn't been invoked in decades.

"He is invoking one of the few powers that the charter gives him," Dujarric said.

'Impossible' conditions 


Guterres, who took office in 2017, also urged the members of the Security Council to "press to avert a humanitarian catastrophe".

"The healthcare system in Gaza is collapsing," he said, adding that "there is no effective protection of civilians".

Israel's foreign minister later lashed out at the UN chief, saying Guterres's tenure was "a danger to world peace" after his invoking of the rare procedure.

"His request to activate Article 99 and the call for a ceasefire in Gaza constitutes support of the Hamas terrorist organisation," Eli Cohen wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The Security Council is expected to convene on Friday, diplomats said.

"We cannot move further without having the Security Council shouldering its responsibility," said Palestinian Ambassador Riyad Mansour.

The situation threatens "peace and security in the region", Guterres warned.

"With a humanitarian ceasefire, the means of survival can be restored, and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner across the Gaza Strip."

In mid-November, after four rejected draft texts, the heavily divided Security Council called for "extended humanitarian pauses" in the Gaza Strip, in what was the first time it broke its silence on the bloody conflict.

According to diplomatic sources, Security Council members are working on a new draft resolution focused on humanitarian aid.

The United Arab Emirates has circulated a draft resolution that calls for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, according to the text seen by AFP.

But Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said he did not think a Security Council resolution “would be useful at thais point”.

“A lot of the good work that has been going on trying to improve the situation has been happening on the ground in the region, and we need to continue that.”

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