Guterres uses rare clause to urge action on Gaza

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Thursday, 7th December 2023

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has invoked the seldom-used Article 99 to force the Security Council to address the Israeli-Hamas war in Gaza, warning of deepening “catastrophe” – an action which brought on the Portuguese politician and diplomat the wrath of Israel once again.

In a letter to the president of the Security Council, the UN chief said he expects “law and order to completely collapse soon due to the desperate conditions” in Gaza and urged the Council “to help avert a humanitarian catastrophe and appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared.” He stated that “the health system in Gaza is collapsing, there is no effective protection for civilians and no place is safe in Gaza”. Guterres said conditions are “rapidly deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for the Palestinians as a whole. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs”. It is the first time the UN chief has invoked the article since taking office in 2017, and the first time any secretary-general has made use of it since 1989.

By invoking Article 99, Guterres is using the most powerful tool at his disposal to bring a threat to international peace and security to the Security Council’s attention. The council has additional powers at its disposal if it chooses to act on Guterres’s advice. If it does adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, the UN’s most powerful body has powers to compel Israel, Hamas and their allies to comply: it can impose sanctions, and it can go even further and authorise an international force.

It remains to be seen if the US will again veto a resolution calling for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza as international pressure mounts to end the war and President Biden faces widespread criticism for his continued support for Israel. The Biden administration has opposed a ceasefire, saying it would only benefit Hamas.

UN chief’s term is ‘danger to world peace’

Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has tweeted that the tenure of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “a danger to world peace”  in response to the latter’s decision to invoke a rare clause in the UN charter to urge Security Council intervention in the Israel-Hamas war. Cohen claims that Guterres’s decision “constitutes support of the Hamas terrorist organisation and an endorsement of the murder of the elderly, the abduction of babies and the rape of women. “Anyone who supports world peace must support the liberation of Gaza from Hamas.”

Photo: Reuters

Israeli envoy says Guterres ‘reached a new moral low’

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan castigated Guterres, calling on him to resign. “The Secretary-General decided to activate this rare clause only when it allows him to put pressure on Israel, which is fighting the Nazi Hamas terrorists. This is more proof of the Secretary-General’s moral distortion and his bias against Israel,” Erdan said. “I again call on the Secretary-General to resign immediately – the UN needs a Secretary-General who supports the war on terror, not a Secretary-General who acts according to the script written by Hamas.”

IDF encircling Hamas Gaza leader’s house

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday his country’s military is now “encircling” the home of Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas’ leader, in the Gaza Strip.  “Last night I said that our forces can reach anywhere in the Gaza Strip. Now they are encircling Sinwar’s house. So his house is not his fortress, and he can escape, but it’s only a matter of time before we get him,” Netanyahu said in a video announcement. Sinwar is believed to be somewhere in the Palestinian enclave but hidden in Hamas’ vast underground network of tunnels. Referred to by Israel as the “Butcher of Khan Younis” for his violent and cruel torture methods against his enemies, both Israeli and Palestinian, Sinwar, 60, is widely seen as being behind the massacre of Israeli civilians carried out by thousands of Hamas militants on October 7. “That man is in our sights,” Israeli Defence Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told journalists in mid-October. “Sinwar is the leader of Hamas in Gaza and he’s a dead man walking.” 

Putin makes rare trip to Middle East

Escorted by four fighter jets, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a rare one-day lightning tour to the Middle East during which he visited Saudi Arabia after a short trip to the United Arab Emirates. Al Jazeera reports Putin was escorted to the presidential palace, where President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan called Putin his “dear friend”. He later issued a statement saying they discussed “the importance of strengthening dialogue and cooperation to ensure stability and progress”. The Russian leader echoed those sentiments. The meeting was part of Russia’s quest to stake out a more influential role in the Middle East, with oil cooperation and the Israel-Hamas war on the agenda. The two leaders discussed, among other things, bilateral cooperation in the energy industry and advanced technologies, according to Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency.

Putin then jetted off to Riyadh, where he met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud – their first face-to-face meeting since October 2019. Putin’s meeting with the Saudi crown prince came after oil prices fell, despite a pledge by OPEC+, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as allies led by Russia, to further reduce output. Putin has made few international trips after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him in March, accusing him of deporting Ukrainian children. Neither the UAE nor Saudi Arabia have signed the ICC’s founding treaty, and are not obligated to arrest him if he enters their territories.

Photo: SPA/AFP

US Republicans block Ukraine Aid Bill

Republicans in the US Senate on Wednesday blocked an emergency spending Bill to fund the war in Ukraine, demanding strict new border restrictions in exchange and severely jeopardising President Biden’s push to replenish the war chests of American allies before the end of the year. In the Senate, the vote to move forward on the Bill was 49 to 51, short of the 60-vote threshold needed to advance. Republicans held ranks against the $111-billion-Bill, which would provide about $50 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, more for economic and humanitarian aid, and another $14 billion toward arming Israel in its war against Hamas. They voted ‘no’ despite a series of last-ditch appeals from Democrats and an appeal by President Biden, who said he was prepared to offer “significant compromises” on the border and scolded them for abandoning Ukraine in its hour of need.

Photo: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Haley dominates fourth TV duel: ‘enough with Trump’s chaos’

Forty days after the start of the primaries in Iowa, Nikki Haley confirms herself as Donald Trump’s most fearsome and credible rival in the fourth TV debate in Alabama between the Republican presidential candidates, marked by clashes and insults of all kinds. Absent The Donald, who continues to desert the debate, thanks to his large lead in the polls, it is the former ambassador to the UN who shines on a stage where only four are left: the governor of Florida Ron DeSantis, with whom he leads each in Iowa but breaking away in the second stage in New Hampshire, the former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, the only irreducibly anti-Trump, and the bio-tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, an outsider champion and emulator of the tycoon. In what now seems reduced to a race for second place, also as a last-ditch solution in the event of unforeseen events in Trump’s race, Haley immediately became the main target of the attacks. In particular by DeSantis and Ramaswamy, who accused her of being financed and therefore influenced by rich Wall Street donors. The bio tech entrepreneur defined her as “corrupt” (even holding up a sign with this writing) and “more fascist than Biden”, comparing her in a sexist way to a “Dick Cheney with lipstick”. She received boos from the audience, while Christie chivalrously took her defence, triggering one of the most heated clashes of the evening. “You are the most obnoxious blowhard in America, this is an intelligent, successful woman, you should stop insulting her,” he said, chastising him for attacking her on a personal and not political level.

Photo: Peter Zay/Anadolu/Getty Images

Xi meets with EU leaders

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel in Beijing on Thursday. In the opening remarks open to the media of the meeting with President Xi, von der Leyen stressed, “China is the EU’s most important trading partner, but there are clear imbalances and differences that need to be resolved.” President Xi said China and the EU must respond “together to global challenges” and urged “joint work to achieve political trust”. For this, the two sides “should intensify” efforts to “be partners in mutually-beneficial cooperation, constantly strengthen mutual political trust” and reach strategic consensus, Xi noted. von der Leyen and Michel will today have a working lunch with Xi. Afterwards, the EU leaders will chair the 24th bilateral summit with Prime Minister Li Qiang before attending the official dinner and news conference at the EU representation in Beijing in the evening.

Photo: EU/EyePress News/Reuters

Prince William’s fierce plan as King for Harry, Meghan disclosed

Future king Prince William is completely ‘adamant’ that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry should not be welcomed back in the royal fold and is said to have prepared a ruthless plan for his estranged brother Prince Harry and sister-in-law Meghan Markle when he becomes king. The Daily Express UK, citing an extremely well-placed source, reported Prince William, who is currently not on speaking terms with Harry, is already planning for when he becomes King, and the Prince of Wales does not see a future for the California-based couple in the Royal Family. The heir to the throne has also made it clear to his father King Charles that it should be business as usual without Meghan and Harry moving forward, the source told the publication. The insider further claimed, “The feeling is that allowing the Sussexes back into the fold is a bad move and they should be resigned to the fringes indefinitely.” The future king is completely ‘adamant’ that Meghan and Harry should not be welcomed back while King Charles thinks it would help stop the media circus surrounding the royal family, the source said. The new claims about Prince William’s plan as king came after release of Omid Scobie’s bombshell book Endgame.

Ecofin to discuss reform of the Stability and Growth Pact

The Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) ministers starts a two-day meeting this evening to discuss mainly the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact, the agreement, among all the 27 member states of the European Union, to facilitate and maintain the stability of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). Ecofin is responsible for EU policy in three main areas: economic policy, taxation  issues and the regulation of financial services. On the eve of this evening’s meeting, during a news conference yesterday in Berlin, the German Finance Ministry said it saw “contradiction” between a European financial policy “oriented towards stability” and the “disorientation” created by the budget crisis being presently faced by Berlin. spokeswoman Nadine Kalwey told journalists, “The main theme of Ecofin will, obviously, be the reform of the Stability and Growth Pact. This is fundamentally about reforming the rules so that we continue to ensure a stability-oriented fiscal policy in Europe,” adding, “To be honest, I don’t see any contradiction with the situation in Germany.” Pressed by a journalist, Kalwey began by saying that “I cannot anticipate (the content of) the talks that will be held there. But I believe that if the Minister (of Finance, Christian Lindner) finds himself having to respond to some ‘disorientation’ or insecurity, this will be communicated to the media.

Ansa quotes sources saying the negotiations on the Stability Pact are entering the final phase with moments of complexity. The sources said that if necessary there could also be an extension of the works to try to close, a few days more than the date of December 8. The agency reports that the Meloni government closely ties the outcome of this negotiation with any evaluation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) – an inter-governmental organisation that provides loans and other financial assistance to eurozone countries in severe financial distress. It said Italy is always ready to veto new rules if Ecofin insists on an agreement that penalises the country’s economy.

The Stability and Growth Pact has been criticised by some as being insufficiently flexible and needing to be applied over the economic cycle rather than in any one year. The problem is, that countries in the EMU cannot react to economic shocks with a change of their monetary policy since it is coordinated by the European Central Bank and not by national central banks. Consequently, countries must use fiscal policy – that is government spending to absorb the shock.

Main photo: AP/Hatem Al

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