As the Israeli-imposed deadline for the evacuation of 1.1 million civilians in northern Gaza approached, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) issued a stark warning about the deteriorating situation in the region. With fears of a major advance by Israeli ground forces into Gaza, the UN agency expressed grave concerns about the safety of civilians, particularly those seeking refuge in UNRWA shelters. The agency emphasized that, according to the rules of warfare, civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics, and United Nations premises must not be targeted.
“UNRWA shelters in Gaza and northern Gaza are no longer safe. This is unprecedented,” the agency stated. UNRWA reiterated its commitment to advocating for both sides of the conflict to meet their obligations under international law to protect civilians. It pointed out that many vulnerable individuals, including pregnant women, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities, had no means of fleeing to safety.
The Staggering Death Toll
Since the 7th of October, 2023, more than 1,900 Palestinians have lost their lives, including at least 600 children. Over 7,600 individuals have sustained injuries, and a staggering 423,000 people have been displaced due to Israeli airstrikes. This tragedy unfolds within the backdrop of an unlawful blockade imposed by Israel since 2007, which has garnered international condemnation for its collective punishment of the affected population.
UN Expert Warns Another Nakba
Today, a human rights expert affiliated with the United Nations issued a warning, expressing serious concern that Palestinians are facing a significant risk of widespread ethnic displacement. This expert called upon the global community to take immediate action to facilitate a ceasefire between the conflicting parties of Hamas and the Israeli occupying forces.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Francesca Albanese, said, “the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel has reached fever pitch.”
“The United Nations and its Member States must intensify efforts to mediate an immediate ceasefire between the parties, before we reach a point of no return,” said Albanese. “The international community has the responsibility to prevent and protect populations from atrocity crimes. Accountability for international crimes committed by Israeli occupation forces and Hamas must also be immediately pursued,” she added.
She further said, “there is a grave danger that what we are witnessing may be a repeat of the 1948 Nakba, and the 1967 Naksa, yet on a larger scale. The international community must do everything to stop this from happening again.”
She observed that Israeli government officials have made explicit statements endorsing a recurrence of what is known as the Nakba, signifying the events of 1947-1949. During this period, over 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes and ancestral lands as a result of the hostilities that paved the way for the establishment of the State of Israel. Furthermore, the Naksa, which subsequently resulted in Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, led to the displacement of approximately 350,000 Palestinians.
“Israel has already carried out mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war………Again, in the name of self-defence, Israel is seeking to justify what would amount to ethnic cleansing,” she continued.
“Any continued military operations by Israel have gone well beyond the limits of international law. The international community must stop these egregious violations of international law now, before tragic history is repeated. Time is of the essence. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve to live in peace, equality of rights, dignity and freedom,” she further added.
WHO Airlifts Vital Health Supplies for Gaza
In a race against time to address the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the World Health Organization (WHO) took steps to provide critical medical supplies to the region. These life-saving health provisions, including trauma medicines, healthcare essentials, and equipment to treat injuries and illnesses, could potentially save the lives of those affected by the ongoing violence. However, their delivery depends on the reopening of the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, which would allow the supplies to reach Gaza.
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Despite the readiness of the Egyptian side of the border, the Israeli side remained closed, further complicating efforts to provide much-needed aid. WHO noted the urgency of the situation, stressing that every hour the supplies remained on the Egyptian side represented a potential loss of life, especially for vulnerable or disabled individuals. The organization intended to collaborate with the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies to transport the supplies into Gaza as soon as possible.
UN Chief Warns Dire Humanitarian Situation
As the Israel-Gaza conflict continued to intensify, the United Nations relief chief, Martin Griffiths, voiced his grave concerns about the escalating crisis.
“In Gaza, families have been bombed while inching their way south along congested, damaged roads, following an evacuation order that left hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for safety but with nowhere to go,” UN Chief Martin Griffiths said.
He warned that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, “already critical, is fast becoming untenable.”
The OCHA chief warned that violence is on the rise in the occupied West Bank, with a surge in civilian deaths and injuries leaving families “facing ever greater movement restrictions.”
“And in Lebanon, the risk of the conflict spilling into the country is a major concern.”
He emphasized the need for safeguarding all non-combatants, along with civilian infrastructure and humanitarian personnel, from harm by all those involved in armed conflicts.
Mr. Griffiths reiterated the plea made by the UN Secretary-General, underlining that nations possessing influence should utilize it to guarantee adherence to the laws of warfare and to prevent any additional escalation and spillage of the conflict.
“The past week has been a test for humanity, and humanity is failing.”