Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has rejected the United Nations secretary-general’s comments about Hamas’s attack on Israel not happening “in a vacuum”.
UN chief Antonio Guterres caused a diplomatic storm after saying the attack by the militant group “did not happen in a vacuum” and had occurred after the Palestinian people had been “subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation”.
In comments made on Tuesday at the UN Security Council in New York, he also expressed concern that “clear violations of international humanitarian law” had been committed by Israel in Gaza during its fightback against Hamas which has led to thousands of casualties.
Israel’s UN ambassador Gilad Erdan accused the secretary-general of having lost “all morality and impartiality” and called for his resignation.
Downing Street made clear that the Prime Minister does not agree with the “characterisation put forward” by Mr Guterres but that the UK was not supporting calls for him to quit.
Immigration minister Robert Jenrick, a close ally of Mr Sunak, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain programme that the comments were “wrong” and that Mr Guterres should “retract” them if he was “implying there is any justification for” the killing of 1,400 Israelis, most of them civilians, by Hamas fighters on October 7.
The international fallout from the comments appeared to widen after Tel Aviv said it would deny UN officials visas.
Mr Erdan reportedly told Israel’s Army Radio on Wednesday that Martin Griffiths, a British diplomat serving as UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, had been refused a visa in response to his boss’s stance.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also cancelled a scheduled meeting with Mr Guterres.
Asked by reporters about what Mr Sunak made of Mr Guterres’s comments, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Obviously we don’t agree with that characterisation put forward.
“We are clear that there is and can be no justification for Hamas’s barbaric terrorist attack which was driven by hatred and ideology.”
The spokesman said that the UN “as a body will continue to play an important role… and that is supported by the UK Government”.
On Wednesday, Mr Guterres tried to row back on the remarks, tweeting: “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the horrific attacks by Hamas.
“Those horrendous attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”