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UN secretary-general says comments on Hamas attack were 'misrepresented,' as Israel retaliates with visa ban

One of the United Nations' most senior officials said on Wednesday his comments around the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas were not intended to justify the initial attack by Hamas earlier this month, saying instead that his comments were "misrepresented" in a dispute that has led to a ban on visas for UN staff.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke on Wednesday, hours after Israel said it would stop issuing visas to UN personnel to "teach them a lesson" over Guterres's initial comments, which were made during a meeting on Tuesday. 

"I am shocked by the misrepresentations by some of my statement yesterday in the Security Council as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas. This is false, it was the opposite," Guterres said, speaking to reporters in New York City.

"I spoke of the grievance of the Palestinian people and in doing so, I also clearly stated, and I quote, that 'the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas.'"

Details on visa ban unclear

During a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, Guterres said Hamas's attack on Oct. 7 "did not happen in a vacuum," but after "56 years of suffocating occupation" by Israel.

Outraged Israelis accused the high-ranking official of justifying the Hamas incursion that left 1,400 people dead and 2,700 wounded, with scores more taken hostage.

The action on visas came from Israel's ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, on Wednesday morning.

"Due to [Guterres's] remarks we will refuse to issue visas to UN representatives. We have already refused a visa for under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs Martin Griffiths," Erdan told Army Radio, a national radio station run by Israeli Defence Forces.

"The time has come to teach them a lesson."

WATCH | Freed hostage describes being captured by Hamas: Featured VideoWith translation provided by her daughter, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, describes being abducted from her kibbutz by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attacks and taken into Gaza.

In his role at the UN, Griffiths co-ordinates emergency relief for people affected by humanitarian crises. It was not immediately clear whether Israel's decision on visas would affect UN aid personnel already on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank.

"I believe it was necessary to set the record straight, especially out of respect to the victims and to their families," he said.

Israel imposed a complete siege over Gaza in response to Hamas's incursion, bombarding the territory with devastating airstrikes over the past two weeks. Thousands have been killed and surviving residents have been running out of food, water and medicine.

The UN has said more than half of Gaza's 2.3 million residents are now out of their homes, with almost 600,000 crowded into UN shelters.

Later on Wednesday, the UN Security Council will vote on rival proposals by the United States and Russia for action on the conflict.

Both countries seek UN Security Council resolutions to address shortages of food, water, medical supplies and electricity in Gaza — but the U.S. has called for pauses to allow aid to enter Gaza, while Russia wants a humanitarian ceasefire.