UN chief fears 'devastating conflict' after Gaza attacks

UN chief fears 'devastating conflict' after Gaza attacks
The UN chief urged both sides "to step back from the brink" of a conflict after a seven-hour Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip.
3 min read
22 July, 2018
Gazans mourn those killed by Israeli fire as violence escalated on Friday [Getty]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Saturday on Israelis and Palestinians to avoid "another devastating conflict" after resurgent violence claimed five lives on Friday. 

"I am gravely concerned over the dangerous escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel," he said in a statement. "It is imperative that all sides urgently step back from the brink of another devastating conflict."

Israel's attacks on Gaza marks the most serious escalation between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.

Four Palestinians and an Israeli soldier died on Friday.

The soldier, shot dead along the border in southern Gaza, was the first to be killed in and around the Palestinian enclave since the war four years ago.

Three Hamas militants were killed on Friday as Israeli air raids sent fireballs exploding into the sky over Gaza. A fourth Palestinian was shot dead in protests near the border.

Israeli fire targeting Palestinian protesters has killed at least 149 people, including journalists and children, since demonstrations began on 30 March.

The Red Cross says more than 13,000 Palestinians have been wounded.

"I call on Hamas and other Palestinian militants to cease the launching of rockets and incendiary kites and provocations" along the fence separating Israel from Gaza, Guterres said.

"And Israel must exercise restraint to avoid further inflaming the situation."

He encouraged all parties to work with the UN to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, saying that it endangered lives on both sides while aggravating the "humanitarian catastrophe" in Gaza.

Diplomats at the UN said there had not yet been a call for an urgent Security Council meeting to find ways to lower tensions. A regular monthly meeting on the Middle East is on the council's agenda for Tuesday.

Ceasefire largely holds

A ceasefire announced by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, and went into effect around midnight Friday, largely held Saturday after a wave of deadly air strikes across Gaza.

There was relative calm except for one incident, with the Israeli army saying a tank struck a Hamas observation point east of Gaza City in retaliation for a suspected attempted border infiltration in northern Gaza.

"With Egyptian and UN efforts, we reached (an agreement) to return to the previous state of calm between the (Israeli) occupation and the Palestinian factions," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement early Saturday.

A senior Hamas official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the deal involved "the cessation of all forms of military escalation" including Israeli air strikes and Hamas mortars and rockets.

The source said that balloons and kites attached with incendiary devices were not included in the agreement.

Palestinians are calling to return to the homes their families were forced from in 1948, during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.

Protesters have also called for an end to the decade-long crippling blockade on the Palestinian enclave.