World

ISRAEL/PALESTINE CRISIS

UN and NGOs join calls for humanitarian ceasefire and release of hostages in Gaza

UN and NGOs join calls for humanitarian ceasefire and release of hostages in Gaza
A participant displays a placard during a protest in solidarity with people of Gaza in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, Germany, 28 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Clemens Bilan)

On 5 November, the heads of 18 United Nations agencies and NGOs issued a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying that ‘an entire population is besieged and under attack’.

‘We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” begins a statement issued by the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) on 5 November.

Established in 1992, IASC “provides a forum that brings together a broad range of UN and non-UN humanitarian partners”. Its statement was signed by 18 humanitarian agencies.

The statement acknowledges that there are dead and injured on both sides, referencing the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel.

“In Israel, some 1,400 people have been killed and thousands have been injured, according to the Israeli authorities. More than 200 people, including children, have been taken hostage. Rockets continue to traumatise families. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced. This is horrific.

“However, the horrific killings of even more civilians in Gaza is an outrage, as is cutting off 2.2 million Palestinians from food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel. 

“In Gaza, according to the Ministry of Health, nearly 9,500 people have been killed, including 3,900 children and over 2,400 women. More than 23,000 injured people require immediate treatment within overstretched hospitals.”

The IASC appeal, signed by leaders of organisations including the World Food Programme, United Nations Children’s Fund, World Health Organization, Save the Children, the UN Human Settlements Programme and others, continues:

“We renew our plea for the parties to respect all their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

“We renew our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all civilians held hostage.

“Civilians and the infrastructure they rely on – including hospitals, shelters and schools – must be protected.

“More aid – food, water, medicine and of course fuel – must enter Gaza safely, swiftly and at the scale needed, and must reach people in need, especially women and children, wherever they are.

“We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

At the time of writing, the latest figures released by Gaza’s Health Ministry and published by the BBC were that more than 10,000 people had been killed in Gaza, with nearly 30,000 injured.

The BBC reported that “about 450 targets were hit across the Gaza Strip last night [Sunday] but the main focus of the strikes were northwest and southwest Gaza”.

On the same day the IASC statement was released, news agency Al Jazeera reported that “at least 4,008” Palestinian children had been killed.

Al Jazeera’s report also mentioned the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, “which is home to an estimated 46,000 people”. Bureij was the target of an Israeli air strike on 2 November and was “the third refugee camp to be hit by Israeli air strikes in the past 24 hours”.

In the IASC statement, the heads of humanitarian organisations spoke out against people being “bombed in their homes, shelters, hospitals and places of worship. This is unacceptable”.

They also said aid workers have been killed in numbers never seen before: 

“Scores of aid workers have been killed since 7 October, including 88 UNRWA colleagues – the highest number of United Nations fatalities ever recorded in a single conflict.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was created by the UN General Assembly in 1949 “to provide relief, health and education services for Palestinians who lost both their homes and means of livelihood in the Arab-Israeli wars” following the formation a year earlier of the State of Israel.

The UNRWA remains the largest service provider to refugees in the region and bears testimony to the long-standing aggression towards, and displacement of, Palestinians by Israeli forces.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA recalls diplomats in Tel Aviv over ‘untenable’ situation with Israeli ambassador

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on Sunday announced that it had “cut Gaza in two”, with international media reporting that IDF spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, had told reporters: “Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza.”

On Sunday, Gaza was also experiencing a total communications outage with no cellphone or internet service, as reported by Netblocks.org, an internet access advocacy group. Palestinian telecom company Paltel confirmed the blackout, blaming Israeli attacks.

Previous blackouts of news and communications took place on 27 October and 1 November, causing a global outcry.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “Without connectivity, people who need immediate medical attention cannot contact hospitals and ambulances.” 

In Amman, Jordan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared at a news conference on Saturday with the Egyptian and Jordanian foreign ministers. Both publicly called on Blinken to assist in bringing about an immediate ceasefire – without conditions.

On Friday, an Israeli air strike on an ambulance transporting critically wounded patients – which the Israeli military says was being used by Hamas operatives – saw some 15 people killed outside Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls for a ceasefire until all the hostages captured by Hamas on 7 October have been released. DM

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