United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that he invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time since 1971 because “there is a high risk of the total collapse of the humanitarian support system in Gaza”.

That article allows a UN chief to raise threats he sees to international peace and security.

Mr Guterres warned that the Gaza Strip is at “a breaking point” and desperate people are at serious risk of starvation.

He said the UN anticipates this would result in “a complete breakdown of public order and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt”.

The council was scheduled to hold a meeting on Friday to vote on a resolution by the United Arab Emirates demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

The UAE is the Arab representative on the 15-member body.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has not supported a ceasefire.

The vote will take place after a ministerial delegation from the Arab League and OrganiSation of Islamic Co-operation, led by Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, meets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington.

The UN secretary-general told the Security Council that Hamas’s brutality against Israelis on October 7 “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people”.

He stressed that “while indiscriminate rocket fire by Hamas into Israel, and the use of civilians as human shields, are in contravention of the laws of war, such conduct does not absolve Israel of its own violations”.

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

The US reiterated its opposition to a ceasefire in Gaza, saying it would leave Hamas in charge of the territory still holding more than 100 Israeli hostages.

US deputy ambassador Robert Wood’s statement to the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was a strong signal that the US will veto the draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Mr Wood said the US does not believe that an immediate ceasefire would lead to “durable peace, in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security” because Hamas would remain in charge.

A halt to military action would only “plant the seeds for the next war” he said, “because Hamas has no desire to see a durable peace, to see a two-state solution”.

He also called the Security Council’s failure to condemn Hamas’s cross-border attack in southern Israel on October 7 as “a serious moral failure”.