UN's Guterres in Egypt to push for ceasefire during Gaza border visit

UN's Guterres in Egypt to push for ceasefire during Gaza border visit
Guterres will meet with aid and relief workers on the Egyptian side of Rafah, where he will stress the need for a ceasefire in war-torn Gaza.
3 min read
Guterres has made multiple calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, and will push for one during his visit to Rafah [Getty/file photo]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was in Egypt on Saturday, set to visit the border with war-hit Gaza just across from the overcrowded city of Rafah where Israel vows to send in ground troops.

Despite warnings that such an attack would cause mass civilian casualties and worsen the humanitarian crisis gripping Gaza after nearly six months of war waged by Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will press ahead.

But his government is under growing international pressure to ease its bombardment and ground offensive, which has killed more than 32,000 people.

Large parts of the territory have been reduced to rubble and the World Food Programme on Monday said Gazans are already "starving to death", with famine projected by May in northern Gaza without urgent intervention.

Israel's most staunch ally the United States, which provides it with billions of dollars in military aid, has repeatedly blocked Gaza ceasefire resolutions at the UN Security Council.

But Washington has also become increasingly vocal about the war's impact on civilians. On Friday it tried to pass a text mentioning an "immediate ceasefire as part of a hostage deal", but China and Russia vetoed the US text.

Guterres landed early Saturday in El-Arish, the Egyptian city closest to the Gaza border. He was expected to travel on to the Egyptian side of Rafah to meet aid workers and reiterate his call for a humanitarian ceasefire.

The Gaza health ministry, in a preliminary tally early on Saturday, reported another 72 people killed overnight.

Live Story

Attack on Al-Shifa Hospital

Israeli forces continued operations in and around Gaza's biggest hospital complex, Al-Shifa, for a sixth day on Saturday.

The UN's humanitarian agency, OCHA, said "health workers have been among those reported arrested and detained."

Mohammed, 59, who lives a short walk from the Al-Shifa complex in Gaza City, told AFP he had seen "many bodies" in the streets, buildings on fire and tanks blocking the roads.

"I feel that Gaza has become worse than the fires of hell," he said, giving only his first name.

Homes up in flames

Netanyahu on Friday reiterated his plan to send ground troops into the southern city of Rafah.

"I hope to do that with the support of the United States, but if we need to, we will do it alone," Netanyahu told visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Netanyahu has said repeatedly that a ground invasion of Rafah is the only way to "root out Hamas", but global leaders have warned that an incursion would worsen an already catastrophic situation.

Even without ground troops, Rafah is suffering regular bombardments.

Members of the Kawari family, who had taken refuge in Rafah after fleeing from Gaza City, told AFP a "huge explosion" killed four children and their grandmother during an air strike early Saturday.

"The entire house is destroyed. It went up in flames," said Fawzy Kawari, a relative of those who died.

To the north of Rafah, in Khan Younis city on Friday, relatives of the Barbakh family mourned relatives killed in strikes.

"We want to understand what's the purpose of this war?" said Samih Barbakh. He accused Israeli forces of "annihilating us," before addressing a complaint to Hamas's self-exiled leader Ismail Haniyeh over the shortage of basic foods.

"Where are you Haniyeh?" Barbakh asked, saying a carton of eggs has risen tenfold in price "and it's not even available."