Israel Palestine Conflict

UN agency in Gaza says cease-fire is `matter of life and death' for Palestinians

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The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees told a UN emergency meeting Monday “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire has become a matter of life and death for millions,” accusing Israel of “collective punishment” of Palestinians and the forced displacement of civilians.

Philippe Lazzarini warned that a further breakdown of civil order following the looting of the agency’s warehouses by Palestinians searching for food and other aid “will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the largest UN agency in Gaza to continue operating.”

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Briefings to the Security Council by Lazzarini, the head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF and a senior UN humanitarian official painted a dire picture of the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza 23 days after Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, and its ongoing retaliatory military action aimed at “obliterating” the militant group, which controls Gaza.

According to the latest figures from Gaza’s Ministry of Health, more than 8,300 people have been killed – 66% of them women and children – and tens of thousands injured, the UN humanitarian office said.

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell that toll includes over 3,400 children killed and more than 6,300 injured.

“This means that more than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza each day – a number which should shake each of us to our core,” she said.

Lazzarini said:. “This surpasses the number of children killed annually across the world’s conflict zones since 2019.” And he stressed: “This cannot be `collateral damage.’”

Many speakers at the council meeting denounced Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attacks on Israel that killed over 1,400 people, and urged the release of some 230 hostages taken to Gaza by the militants. But virtually every speaker also stressed that Israel is obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and their essentials for life including hospitals, schools and other infrastructure – and Israel was criticized for cutting off food, water, fuel and medicine to Gaza and cutting communications for several days.

Lazzarini said, “the handful of convoys” allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt in recent days “is nothing compared to the needs of over 2 million people trapped in Gaza.”

“The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail,” he said, “unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the unprecedented humanitarian needs.”

The commissioner-general of the UN agency known as UNRWA said there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza, warning that basic services are crumbling, medicine, food, water and fuel are running out, and the streets “have started overflowing with sewage, which will cause a massive health hazard very soon.”

UNICEF oversees water and sanitation issues for the UN, and Russell warned that “the lack of clean water and safe sanitation is on the verge of becoming a catastrophe.”

Read more:

UNRWA chief: Forced displacement, collective punishment happening in Gaza

The grim accounting system of Gaza’s Nasser hospital

Israel’s Netanyahu says Gaza ceasefire ‘will not happen’

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