UN chief defends comments on Hamas attack


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday defended comments he made before the Security Council the previous day that prompted Israel to call for his ouster.

Guterres issued a statement saying he was “shocked by the misinterpretations” after Israeli officials accused him of justifying terrorism when he said the Hamas attack on Israeli civilians Oct. 7 “did not happen in a vacuum.” Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan quickly called for Guterres’ resignation.

Guterres had also “condemned unequivocally the horrifying and unprecedented” attack by Hamas, he said, and noted he specifically had said legitimate grievances of the Palestinians did not justify the attacks.

“Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians − or the launching of rockets against civilian targets,” he said. “I believe it was necessary to set the record straight – especially out of respect to the victims and to their families.”

Israel has been bombarding Gaza since the Hamas attack killed more than 1,400 people on Israeli soil and ignited a war that has left thousands of Palestinians dead − 6,546 according to the latest count by the Hamas-run Health Ministry − and swaths of the Gaza Strip in ruins. The U.N. has struggled to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinians in Gaza.

President Joe Biden said he has “no confidence” the death toll numbers Hamas is reporting are accurate. “I’m sure innocents have been killed, and it’s a price of waging a war,” he said. “I think the Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they’re focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war against Israel. And it’s against their interest when that doesn’t happen.”

Blinken urges ‘humanitarian pauses’: But US won’t back cease-fire in Gaza


∎ Biden said he believes one of the reasons for the Hamas attack was “the progress we’re making toward regional integration for Israel and regional integration overall.” He also expressed alarm about extremist settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank. “It has to stop now,” Biden said.

∎ China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution from the U.S. that would have reaffirmed Israel’s right to self-defense, urged respect for international laws – especially protection of civilians – and called for “humanitarian pauses” to deliver aid to Gaza.

∎ French President Emmanuel Macron said his country will send a ship with aid for hospitals in the Gaza Strip, in addition to a plane with medical equipment to come into the territory through Egypt. “Others will follow,” Macron said from Cairo, a day after a visit to Israel that included stops in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.

∎ The Al Jazeera media outlet said the wife, son and daughter of correspondent Wael Dahdouh were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Another son was seriously wounded and a grandson was also killed, the network said. “They take vengeance on us through our children?” Dahdouh said amid tears.

∎ The Israeli military said it killed senior Hamas commander Taysir Mubasher, a battalion chief and former commander of Hamas’ naval forces. Mubasher was a close confidant of Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’ military wing, the Israeli military said.

At least two dozen Americans have been injured in attacks on U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria this month, and Biden said Wednesday he warned Iran’s ayatollah about repercussions if that continues.

“He should be prepared,” Biden said at a Rose Garden news conference.

According to the Pentagon, the U.S. and coalition forces have been attacked at least 10 times in Iraq and at least three times in Syria by a mix of drones and rockets. The U.S. has deployed two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region to deter hostile actors.

U.S. officials have repeatedly warned about attempts by Iran and its proxies to expand the Israel-Hamas war. On Wednesday, the Iranian-supported Islamic Resistance group in Iraq said its rockets hit the Kharab al-Jir military base in eastern Syria, which houses U.S. forces.

− Joey Garrison and Francesca Chambers

The Florida government is trying to get a pro-Palestinian student group banned from state universities, arguing it supports a “terrorist organization.”

Students for Justice in Palestine, which says it has more than 200 U.S. chapters, has for decades led campus protests and boycott attempts against Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. The administration of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, says the organization is linked to Hamas and wants it disbanded.

At DeSantis’ urging, state university system Chancellor Ray Rodrigues wrote to university presidents Tuesday and told them to dissolve the SJP chapters. He also reminded them that Florida law prohibits providing “material support … to a designated foreign terrorist organization.’”

Palestine Legal, which supplies legal support to pro-Palestinian groups, said the ban was DeSantis’ latest effort at quelling free expression on campuses.

“Florida, particularly under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, has been actively undermining education, freedom of speech and social justice movements, including by banning anti-racist courses and trying to criminalize protests,” Palestine Legal said in a statement.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday accused the United States of orchestrating military strikes in Gaza and accused Israel of taking revenge on defenseless Palestinians because it was incapable of confronting Muslim fighters.

“Palestine will definitely be victorious in this current situation and in the future,” he wrote on social media.

Khamenei warned Muslim governments not to follow the lead of the U.S. and other Western nations labeling “people defending their homes and country” as terrorists.

“The terrorist is that fake government that has occupied Palestine,” Khamenei wrote, referencing Israel. His comments came a day after Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking at the U.N., said the U.S. does not want the war to widen but that “if Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake, we will defend our people, we will defend our security swiftly and decisively.”

Iran provided Hamas with crucial technical knowledge, weapons and funding ahead of the militant group’s Oct. 7 rampage and has backed militant attacks in other countries in recent days, an Israeli military spokesman charged Wednesday. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari accused Tehran of ordering recent attacks by militias in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon. 

“Iran directly aided Hamas before the war, with training, supplying weapons, money and technological know-how,” Hagari said. “Even now, Iranian aid to Hamas continues in the form of intelligence and online incitement against the State of Israel.”

The Biden administration has repeatedly said there is no evidence of direct Iranian involvement in the Hamas rampage in Israel, or even prior knowledge. The administration has been laboring to keep Iran and other regional actors from fueling an expansion of the war into Lebanon and elsewhere.

The U.N. agency charged with shuttling humanitarian aid into Gaza says it will need to significantly reduce and possibly halt operations if fuel does not get to Gaza immediately.

“The coming 24 hours are very critical,” the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said in an update Wednesday.

More than 613,000 people are sheltering in 150 agency facilities across Gaza. Three more agency staff members were killed Tuesday, bringing the total to 38 staff killed since the war began, the U.N. said.

Inside the tunnels: As Israel preps for possible ground invasion, a look at the tunnels in Gaza

Hamas militants are using hundreds of miles of secret tunnels under Gaza and into Israel to attack Israeli targets, move weapons and, most recently, hold hostages. Hamas has used the tunnels, estimated from 150 to 300 miles in length, for decades in its war against Israel. The militant group claimed the underground network was 311 miles in 2021, but that has not been independently verified. The network, consisting of about 1,300 tunnels, will present special problems for Israel Defense Force members if they invade with ground troops.

Hamas leaders use parts of the network as command centers to guide military operations, Israeli experts say. The Israeli military says Hamas has used millions of dollars in aid to pay for building the tunnels. Read more here.

George Petras, Janet Loehrke

Contributing: Francesca Chambers, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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