U.N. Secretary General Invokes Article 99, Asking to Declare a Cease-Fire in Gaza

The secretary general of the United Nations on Wednesday called on the Security Council to declare an immediate and binding cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, invoking a rare and powerful tool in the U.N. Charter known as Article 99.

The move was a dramatic step in the push by the secretary general, António Guterres, to end the war, which he described in a letter to the Council as a humanitarian disaster that threatened international peace and security. It set up a showdown at the Council with the United States, which has opposed a permanent cease-fire and has veto power.

Article 99 empowers the leader of the U.N. to recommend action to the Security Council, which has the international authority to intervene in conflicts and issue legally binding resolutions.

The United Arab Emirates, a member of the Council, said it had submitted a draft resolution for an urgent vote on a cease-fire. The Council will likely convene an emergency meeting in the coming days to hold the vote.

“The situation in the Gaza Strip is catastrophic and close to irreversible. We cannot wait. The Council needs to act decisively to demand a humanitarian cease-fire,” the Emirati mission to the U.N. said in a statement posted on social media.

The resolution, together with Mr. Guterres’s call, will add to the political pressure on the Biden administration, which has staunchly supported Israel’s position that a cease-fire would only allow Hamas to regroup.

The Israeli ambassador, Gilad Erdan, accused Mr. Guterres of playing into Hamas’s hands. Mr. Erdan has sharply criticized U.N. officials and Council members who have been critical of Israel’s war in Gaza.

Tensions between the United Nations and Israel have flared in the past two months. Israel’s foreign minister Eli Cohen, said on Wednesday that he had decided to revoke the visa of the U.N.’s humanitarian coordinator for Palestinian territories Lynn Hastings. He accused the U.N. of bias and said Ms. Hastings had not condemned Hamas’s atrocities on Oct. 7 and instead criticized Israel.

Stéphane Dujarric, the U.N. spokesman, said the United Nations deeply regretted Israel’s decision and had asked Israeli officials to reconsider because Ms. Hastings had been “acting with independence, neutrality, and impartiality.”

Mr. Guterres said in a letter to the president of the Council on Wednesday that the situation in Gaza was “fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs.”

The war started on Oct. 7 when Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups carried out cross-border terrorist attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians. The attackers also took hostages and committed atrocities, including the rape and mutilation of numerous women, Israeli officials say.

Since then, Israel has invaded Gaza with ground forces and has bombarded thousands of targets from the air, flattening whole neighborhoods. Gaza health officials say more than 15,500 Palestinians have been killed, many of them women and children.

U.N. officials say that more than half of the 2.2 million people in Gaza have been displaced. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee into smaller and smaller areas as the war has closed in on them from all sides and as supplies of food, water and medicine have dwindled.

Mr. Guterres said that the U.N.’s humanitarian relief work in Gaza had become nearly impossible because of the recent expansion of Israel’s offensive to southern Gaza. There are few, if any, safe zones left in the enclave, he said, making it extremely challenging for aid workers to operate.

The Security Council, the 15-member body tasked with maintaining peace and stability in the world, has been deeply divided and paralyzed over the war.

The majority of its members have called for a permanent cease-fire, with the exception of the United States and Britain, both of which have veto power.