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UN chief says Gaza becoming 'graveyard for children', calls for urgent ceasefire

UN chief says Gaza becoming 'graveyard for children', calls for urgent ceasefire

World

UN chief says Gaza becoming 'graveyard for children', calls for urgent ceasefire

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GAZA (AFP/Reuters) - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday urged an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, as he warned that the bombarded Gaza Strip was becoming a "graveyard for children".

"The unfolding catastrophe makes the need for a humanitarian ceasefire more urgent with every passing hour," Guterres told reporters at the UN headquarters.

Both Israel and the Hamas fighters who control Gaza have rebuffed mounting international pressure for a ceasefire. Israel says hostages taken by Hamas during its rampage in southern Israel on Oct 7 should be released first. Hamas says it will not free them or stop fighting while Gaza is under assault.

"Ground operations by the Israel Defense Forces and continued bombardment are hitting civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churches and UN facilities – including shelters. No one is safe," Guterres said.

"At the same time, Hamas and other militants use civilians as human shields and continue to launch rockets indiscriminately towards Israel," he said.

He said clear violations of international humanitarian law were being committed.

Earlier Israel said 31 soldiers had been killed since it began expanded ground operations in Gaza on Oct 27 and reiterated that Hamas was hiding with civilians and at hospitals. Hamas has urged the UN to verify the "false narrative" that Hamas is based in hospitals.

STRIKING HEZBOLLAH TARGETS

Israel's military said it was striking targets belong to the Shi'ite group Hezbollah in Lebanon, and that details would follow.

The military's statement came after a barrage of rockets from Lebanon at cities in northern Israel, not far from the Lebanese border.

HAMAS TO KEEP RULING GAZA

The leader of the Palestinian group in Lebanon said that Hamas will not accept a puppet government in the Gaza Strip and will remain in the territory.

Israel has said it intends to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the group's October 7 attack which Israeli officials say killed at least 1,400 people.

"To those who think that Hamas will disappear, Hamas will remain entrenched in the conscience of our people, and no force on Earth can annihilate or marginalise it," Osama Hamdan told a news conference.

The senior Hamas official said Israel ally the United States planned to replace its rule in Gaza, likening such a move to Nazi Germany's puppet state in France during World War II.

"Our people will not allow the United States to impose its plans to create an administration that suits it and that suits the occupation (Israel), and our people will not accept a new Vichy government," he said.

BIDEN SPEAKS WITH NETANYAHU

US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday to discuss the latest developments in Israel and Gaza, the White House said.

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the potential for tactical pauses in strikes on Gaza during talks, according to a spokesperson.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said more Americans are expected to exit Gaza on Monday as more aid enters the territory. Biden and Netanyahu also discussed the situation in the West Bank, Kirby said.

The Pentagon put the number of civilians killed in Gaza in the thousands, but did not provide a specific number.

"As it related to civilian casualties in Gaza... we know the numbers are in the thousands," Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Patrick Ryder told reporters.

International organisations said hospitals cannot cope with the wounded and food and clean water are running out with aid deliveries nowhere near enough.

"We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It's been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now," said an earlier statement from 18 signatories including UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is touring the region to try to reduce the risks of the conflict escalating, get more aid into Gaza and draw up plans for a sustainable future for both Israel and the Palestinians.

Washington is seeking pauses in fighting to allow in aid rather than a ceasefire, arguing, like Israel, that Hamas militants would just take advantage.

"We are working very aggressively on getting more humanitarian assistance in Gaza," Blinken said in Turkey. "I think we'll see in the days ahead that assistance can expand in significant ways."

CLOSING IN ON HAMAS

The Israeli military said its forces had taken a militant compound and were poised to attack Hamas fighters hiding in underground tunnels and bunkers in the northern Gaza Strip, having isolated the area with troops and tanks. It released video of tanks moving through bombed-out streets and groups of troops moving on foot.

"Now we are going to start closing in on them," Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hecht told reporters.

The armed wing of Hamas, the Al-Qassam brigades, said it had damaged 27 Israeli military vehicles in 48 hours and inflicted significant losses in direct engagements with Israeli troops.