Social media fact-checks UN sec-general claim civilian deaths in Gaza ‘unparalleled and unprecedented’

Social media platform X hit United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres with a community note that countered a claim he made about the deaths in the Gaza Strip as Israel continues its offensive against Hamas. 

The official U.N. News account on X posted several quotes from Guterres’s press conference on Monday, when he insisted, “We are witnessing a killing of civilians that is unparalleled and unprecedented in any conflict since I have been Secretary-General.” 

The post received a community note, which allows users to provide additional context for “posts that might be misleading,” pointing to at least two conflicts with significant death tolls either equal to or above the death toll in the Gaza Strip – the Syrian civil war and the Yemen War, which have seen hundreds of thousands killed. 

An Israeli official told Fox News Digital, “The Secretary-General has lost any moral standing. He willfully ignores the thousands of civilians killed in conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, as he pursues vilification of Israel. Shame on him.”

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A spokesperson for the secretary-general told Fox News Digital that Guterres stood by his comments, initially noting that Guterres was responding to the “large number of civilian casualties reported so far in Gaza” and argued that the numbers cited in the community note “are still below the 11,000+ deaths counted so far in Gaza” and the Yemeni casualties “preceded the secretary-general’s term.” 

The spokesperson then argued that Guterres “was clearly talking about the casualties among children,” noting the comment followed a list of the numbers of children casualties in various conflicts over recent years. 

“Although he did use the word civilians in the last sentence, the focus of what he was saying, and the statistics he provided, were about child deaths,” the spokesperson claimed. 

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Guterres had also stressed in his comments that he was not going to enter into “discussing the accuracy of the numbers that were published by the de facto authorities in Gaza.”

Gilad Erdan

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan wears a yellow Star of David that reads “Never Again” in honor of those killed in the unprecedented attack by Hamas, which triggered an ongoing war, as he addresses members of the U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Guterres took office in 2017, and in that year, the Syrian civil war saw over 10,000 civilians dead. The Yemen War, which began before Guterres took office, has claimed over 377,000 deaths, with the U.N. reporting that one child died every seven minutes in the Yemen conflict in 2022 alone – though this includes deaths due to starvation or disease. 

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry has reported over 11,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip since Israel started its bombing campaign in response to the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that killed 1,200 people. 

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The ministry’s number does not distinguish between combatant and civilian deaths, nor does it specify how they die – much like the U.N. figures for Yemen. The U.N. maintains that the ministry’s numbers have held up to scrutiny in past conflicts and have largely proven accurate. 

Gaza City airstrike aftermath

Palestinians inspect the damage to a house destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, on Saturday, Nov. 4. (AP/Abed Khaled)

Israel’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gilad Erdan blasted Guterres for his comment, writing on X, “Short memory? I think not. More likely that it’s the regular bias and anti-Israel approach of the secretary-general.”

Erdan has called for Guterres to resign after losing “all morality and impartiality,” saying that Guterres “distorts and twists reality.” Guterres pushed back on the claim, insisting that he has “condemned, unequivocally” the Oct. 7 attack and does not in any way endorse terrorist acts. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at the ReutersNEXT Newsmaker event in New York City, New York, U.S., November 8, 2023. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)

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“I clearly state, and I quote, that the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the attacks by Hamas,” he said in his defense. 

The secretary-general’s spokesperson did not respond to queries about the claims of an anti-Israel bias at the U.N.