NEW YORK, Dec 7 — The UN secretary-general yesterday struck a rare and powerful alarm bell in a letter to the Security Council warning that he expects public order “to completely break down soon” in Gaza.

The comments came in a letter written by Antonio Guterres 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 calling for a “humanitarian cease fire”, Guterres wrote to the president of the Security Council that the humanitarian conditions amid the Israel-Hamas war are “fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole”.

“Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defence 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.

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

The rotating presidency of the Security Council is currently held by Ecuador.

The Secretary-General’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, called the move “very dramatic,” noting that Article 99 hadn’t been invoked in decades.

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“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 health care system in Gaza is collapsing,” he said, adding that “there is no effective protection of civilians.”

“The current conditions are making it impossible for meaningful humanitarian operations to be conducted,” the letter said, adding that “nowhere is safe in Gaza.”

Fighting between Israel and Hamas, which governs the besieged coastal territory of the Gaza Strip, kicked off when Hamas militants launched a deadly cross-border raid on October 7, killing some 1,200 people, most of whom were civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

Guterres denounced the attacks on Wednesday as “abhorrent acts of terror”.

In response, Israel has launched a brutal ground and air assault in Gaza, killing more than 16,200 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas government.

The situation threatens “peace and security in the region,” Guterres said.

“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.”

“The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis,” he said.

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.

But US Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood said that he didn’t think a Security Council resolution “would be useful at this 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.” — AFP