UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that Hamas brutality could never justify "collective punishment" of Palestinians as Israel presses its campaign against Hamas in the Gaza strip.
Guterres convened an emergency meeting of the organization's Security Council after weeks of fighting left over 17,170 people dead in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
"Some 130 hostages are still held captive. I call for their immediate and unconditional release, as well as their humane treatment and visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross until they are freed," Guterres said.
"At the same time, the brutality perpetrated by Hamas can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people."
Vowing to destroy the Islamist movement, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in tanks and ground troops since the war began on October 7 with unprecedented attacks by Hamas on southern Israel. Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and took hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, Israel says.
"I unreservedly condemn those attacks. I am appalled by the reports of sexual violence," Guterres said.
"There is no possible justification for deliberately killing some 1,200 people, including 33 children, injuring thousands more, and taking hundreds of hostages."
Guterres deployed rarely-used Article 99 of the UN Charter to bring to the council's attention "any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security".
No one in his job had done this in decades.
Guterres is seeking a "humanitarian ceasefire" to prevent "a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians" and the entire Middle East.
After Guterres sent his urgent letter, the United Arab Emirates prepared a draft resolution that will be put to a vote on Friday, said the delegation from Ecuador, which chairs the council this month and thus decides on scheduling issues.
The latest version of this document seen Thursday by AFP calls the humanitarian situation in Gaza "catastrophic" and "demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire."
The Security Council is due to vote on this Arab-proposed ceasefire plan later in the day, with several other previous attempts at brokering a ceasefire having been vetoed.
The short text also calls for the protection of civilians, the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages Hamas is still holding, and humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip.
Washington, Israel's closest ally on the world stage, has said that a new resolution would not be "useful" at this stage.
Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to a wasteland. The UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, facing shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine, along with the threat of disease.
"International humanitarian law includes the duty to protect civilians and to comply with the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution," Guterres said, calling for an immediate ceasefire.
"The laws of war also demand that civilians' essential needs must be met, including by facilitating the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian relief," he added.
On Friday, the health ministry reported another 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City, and dozens more in Jabalia and Khan Yunis.
The military told residents of the Jabalia, Shejaiya and Zeitun districts of Gaza City to move west.
The death toll also rose in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot dead six Palestinians on Friday, the territory's health ministry said. (AFP)