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UN chief calls on Israel to ‘spare civilians from more suffering’ in Gaza Gaza
UNFPA/Bisan Ouda Photo Caption: Internally displaced people rest at a camp near the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, in the south of Gaza.

UN chief calls on Israel to ‘spare civilians from more suffering’ in Gaza

India Blooms News Service | @indiablooms | 05 Dec 2023, 05:36 pm

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has reiterated his call for a sustained humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the unconditional and immediate release of all hostages, his Spokesperson said on Monday.

Guterres is extremely alarmed by the resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas this past Friday, including rocket fire towards Israel from Gaza and Israel’s renewed ground operations and intensified airstrikes, increasingly in the south of the enclave.

“The UN continues to appeal to Israeli Forces to avoid further action that would exacerbate the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and to spare civilians from more suffering,” UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement.

Protect civilians, sustain aid flows

The Secretary-General also underlined the need to protect civilians – including health workers, journalists and UN personnel - and civilian infrastructure at all times.

He also emphasized the need for unimpeded and sustained humanitarian aid flow to Gaza, noting that people ordered to evacuate have nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on.   

The statement said the UN chief also remains gravely concerned about the escalation of violence in the occupied West Bank, including intensified Israeli security operations, high numbers of fatalities and arrests, spiking settler violence and attacks on Israelis by Palestinians.

Humanitarian efforts impeded

The World Health Organization (WHO) also called on Israel to take measures to protect civilians.

The UN agency was on Monday notified by Israel to remove supplies from its medical warehouse in the south "as ground operations will put it beyond use," Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on social media calling for the order to be withdrawn.

Humanitarians have warned that the current situation in Gaza does not allow them to address the immense needs there.

More than two million people live in the enclave and over 80 per cent, nearly 1.9 million, are now displaced, according to the latest update from the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, UNRWA, which is sheltering 1.2 million residents in its facilities.

UN humanitarian affairs office OCHA said limited aid distributions took place in Rafah governorate in southern Gaza on Sunday and largely stopped in the adjacent Khan Younis governorate due to the intensity of hostilities.

Additionally, central Gaza was largely disconnected from the south, following Israeli forces’ prevention of movement, including of humanitarian supplies. 

Disease and famine threat

“Meanwhile, grave concerns persist about waterborne diseases due to water consumption from unsafe sources, particularly in the north, where the water desalination plant and the pipeline from Israel was shut down,” OCHA reported.

Furthermore, there has been almost no improvement in the access of residents in north Gaza to water for drinking and domestic purposes for weeks.

The World Food Programme (WFP) continues to warn about the ongoing risk of famine among the entire population in Gaza, especially for those with chronic diseases, older persons, children and people living with disabilities. 

ICC Prosecutor’s visit

In related developments, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Karim Khan, has concluded his first visit to Israel and the State of Palestine, where he met with victims on both sides of the conflict.

This marked the first-ever such visit by a Prosecutor from the court, which was established in 2002 under a treaty known as the Rome Statute to investigate and try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.

Khan issued a statement on Sunday which said he had a simple message during the mission - “my Office is here to ensure that the protection of the law is felt by all.”

‘Scenes of calculated cruelty’

The visit to Israel was conducted at the request of family members and friends of Israeli citizens who were either killed or taken hostage by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups during their bloody incursion into southern Israel on 7 October, he said.

Khan travelled to Kibbutz Beeri and Kibbutz Kfar Azza, as well as the site of the Nova Music Festival in Re’im, where he “witnessed scenes of calculated cruelty”.

Working towards accountability

He said the attacks against innocent Israeli civilians represent some of the most serious international crimes, that shock the conscience of humanity, and which the ICC was established to address.

“In my meeting with the families of the victims of these attacks, my message was clear: we stand ready to work in partnership with them as part of our ongoing work to hold those responsible to account,” he added.

The ICC Prosecutor also called for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, saying they “cannot be treated as human shields or bargaining chips.”

Suffering in Gaza and West Bank

Khan met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior leaders in the West Bank city of Ramallah where “discussions were highly productive as we look to further deepen our cooperation under the Rome Statute.”

He also spoke to the families of Palestinian victims, who shared personal accounts of their suffering in Gaza and the West Bank.

“In relation to Gaza, and notwithstanding any ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, the manner in which Israel responds to these attacks is subject to clear legal parameters that govern armed conflict,” he said.

“Conflict in densely populated areas where fighters are alleged to be unlawfully embedded in the civilian population is inherently complex, but international humanitarian law must still apply and the Israeli military knows the law that must be applied.” 

The ICC Prosecutor said credible allegations of crimes during the conflict should be the subject of timely, independent examination and investigation. He also stressed the need to comply with the “clear legal principles” of distinction, precaution and proportionality.

Critical need for aid

Addressing the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, he emphasized that civilians must have access to basic food, water, and desperately needed medical supplies – without delay and at scale.

“And when such aid arrives, it must not be diverted or misused by Hamas. I cannot be more clear about this.  All actors must comply with international humanitarian law,” he said, adding that “If you do not do so, do not complain when my Office is required to act.”

Khan also voiced concern over the increase in violence against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, which his Office is continuing to investigate.

Hope for humanity

The statement concluded with the hope that this would not be his last visit to both Israel and Palestine.

“Even in this deeply troubling current context, I leave with some hope that the core of our collective humanity can survive this moment,” he said, referring to the words and kindness from the victims he met in both locations.

“At this time of significant turbulence, the law is needed more than ever.  I wish to emphasize that we are working intensively to ensure the law is protected and upheld, for all. 

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