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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

A ‘humanitarian pause’ in deadly Israel-Gaza conflict is not enough, say aid agencies

A ‘humanitarian pause’ in deadly Israel-Gaza conflict is not enough, say aid agencies
The bodies of 111 Palestinians killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza lie in a mass grave during their burial at the Khan Younis cemetery in the southern Gaza Strip, 22 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

International aid organisations have warned that a four-day humanitarian pause in the Israel-Gaza conflict is not enough to address the ‘catastrophic’ situation in the Gaza Strip. They have reiterated calls for a sustainable ceasefire allowing unrestricted humanitarian access and the investigation of possible war crimes in the region.

International aid organisations have reiterated the call for an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in Gaza, warning that a “humanitarian pause” of a few days will in no way be enough to meet the urgent needs of people on the ground.

Israel and Hamas recently agreed to a four-day pause in fighting as part of a Qatar-mediated deal, according to an Al Jazeera report. Under the agreement, 50 people held captive by Hamas in Gaza will be released in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. 

The temporary halt in military action is expected to allow hundreds of trucks carrying humanitarian supplies, medical aid and fuel into the Gaza Strip.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel and Hamas agree to hostage deal and four-day ceasefire; heavy fighting continues in northern Gaza

“It is so important that yesterday, a commitment was made to release some of the Israeli hostages and release Palestinian detainees… and that there may be a several-day pause in the fighting… But… on a humanitarian basis, it’s not enough, and it’s certainly not enough in human rights terms,” said Paul O’Brien, executive director at Amnesty International USA.

“Gaza was once an open-air prison; today, it is worse than that. After a 16-year blockade, living in occupied territories, which violates the international law of apartheid, meeting urgent needs in Gaza is not going to happen in a pause of a few days and is not going to happen with a few hundred aid trucks, as essential… as they are.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Israel-Gaza

An injured man is assisted following Israeli air strikes in Rafah town in the southern Gaza Strip, on 20 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Mohammed Saber)

O’Brien was speaking at a press briefing on the need for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and Israel on Wednesday. He was joined by representatives of various international aid agencies, including Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières/MSF), Doctors of the World (Médecins Du Monde), Save the Children and Handicap International.

Joel Weiler, executive director of Doctors of the World, described the situation in Gaza as “catastrophic”, adding that several of the organisation’s members remained trapped in the northern region due to ongoing bombing attacks.

“We need a real ceasefire… A pause is not realistic… You can’t come from Egypt to Gaza and be able to do a good distribution in four hours, in 10 hours or even in five days. For medical organisations, we can’t do follow-up treatment for injured people,” he argued. “We need time and unrestricted humanitarian access… We are tired of technical discussions… Now we need to be operational in the field. 

“We call on the US government, the UK Government, the EU, France [and] the international community to put pressure on Israel and Hamas to respect international humanitarian law and agree on an immediate, sustainable ceasefire.”

Since the onset of the conflict, over 14,000 civilians are estimated to have been killed in Gaza, of which at least 5,800 are children, according to Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director for Palestine.

Israel-Gaza

Relatives of Palestinians from the Siam family killed following Israeli air strikes, mourn next to wrapped bodies outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on 22 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Haitham Imad)

Hamas is believed to be holding about 240 Israeli hostages in Gaza, taken during a coordinated attack that breached Israeli defences on 7 October. It has been widely reported that more than 1,200 Israelis were killed in that attack.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Pretoria ponders implementing ANC vote to cut ties with Israel

Read more in Daily Maverick: People are dying here – the faces and stories behind the escalating death toll of the Israel-Gaza war

Health system targeted

Since the onset of the Israel-Gaza conflict, there have been repeated instances in which hospitals, clinics, health workers and patients have been targeted, according to Avril Benoît, executive director of MSF in the US. She pointed out that the World Health Organization (WHO) had documented 178 attacks on healthcare infrastructure in Gaza, resulting in hundreds of fatalities.

“We have more than 300 staff who are Palestinians who are trapped there under the siege and we have an international team that is also now trying to [reinstate] surgeries in a hospital. The conditions are impossible to be able to do proper, coordinated humanitarian aid, which is something that people have a right to receive in a conflict,” she said.

“We’re extremely worried about our own colleagues and all the civilians in Gaza. There’s no safe space.”

Two MSF doctors, Dr Mahmoud Abu Nujaila and Dr Ahmad Al Sahar, were killed in an air strike on Al Awda Hospital in northern Gaza on Wednesday. MSF stated that it had regularly communicated the fact that Al Awda was a functioning facility with MSF personnel on-site to warring parties, including sending the GPS coordinates of the hospital to Israeli authorities the day before the attack.

Benoît emphasised that hospitals should “never, under any circumstances, be a target”, as they are places where people go for treatment and protection during conflict.

“It’s like this dystopian reality now, where all the normal scaffolding [for] the conduct of responsible parties in a conflict has been completely perverted and the supporters of some of these belligerents are standing by watching it happen,” she said.

“We’re not lawyers — we’re doctors, we’re nurses, we’re midwives just trying to alleviate the suffering and treat people. And what we see is these arguments, these fake justifications for why it’s okay to target civilians in a hospital. It’s not and no one should stand aside and watch this perversion of the norms of international law.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Nowhere to go’ – Children and healthcare workers trapped in Gaza as food and water run out

Investigation of war crimes

The widespread bombing campaign and “collective punishment” of people in Gaza should be halted immediately, said Benoît, and an investigation should be launched into possible war crimes.

“There should be international observers on the ground. There should be much more probing of misinformation, disinformation that is out there flying around while we humanitarians are just trying to save lives,” she said.

O’Brien echoed Benoît’s call for an investigation into possible war crimes. He referenced hostage-taking by Hamas, which violated international law, but also Israel’s forcible displacement of over a million people in Gaza and the blockade preventing food, water and fuel from entering the region.

“The IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the United States argue that because Hamas is targeted and they live in Gaza, the IDF is adhering to humanitarian law when they bomb churches, schools, hospitals. They are wrong and these acts must be investigated as war crimes,” he said.

Health personnel prepare premature babies to be transferred to Egypt after they were evacuated from Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital, at the Emirates Crescent Hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza, on 20 November 2023. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 28 premature infants were transferred on 20 November from the Emirati Hospital to the Rafah Crossing, in coordination with the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Haitham Imad)

“Because the IDF suspects that there might be Hamas infrastructure under a hospital or a refugee camp, they believe they can shut down those spaces and kill or forcibly displace thousands of civilians in order to find out… That needs to be investigated as a violation of humanitarian war. Until we have those investigations, we have every reason to fear that what happened in Al Shifa [Hospital] will happen in every other hospital.”

The IDF raided Al Shifa Hospital last week, claiming that Hamas was using the facility as a command centre. A WHO-led team who visited the facility on 18 November described it as a “death zone”, with a mass grave at the entrance. At the time of the team’s visit, there were still 25 health workers and 291 patients on site. The WHO reported that the IDF had issued evacuation orders to the 2,500 internally displaced people who had been sheltering on the hospital grounds earlier that day.

“WHO is deeply concerned about the safety and health needs of patients, health workers and internally displaced people sheltering at the few remaining partially functional hospitals in the north, which are facing the risk of closure due to a lack of fuel, water, medical supplies and food, and the intense hostilities,” stated the organisation. 

“Immediate efforts must be made to restore the functionality of Al-Shifa and all other hospitals to provide urgently needed health services in Gaza.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    They have reiterated calls for a sustainable ceasefire allowing unrestricted humanitarian access “and the opportunity for Hamas to regroup, rearm and have another crack at the Jews”

    • Izzy Trees says:

      Everybody can see that Palestine needs a political solution, not a military one. So far, this has been the deadliest conflict for children, with more than 7,208 children slaughtered in just 45 days, according to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. If that doesn’t give you pause, it means you do not fundamentally see Palestinians as human beings.

      If you address the underlying injustices of the occupation (the land grabs, the incarcerations without trial, the humiliating checkpoints) organisations like Hamas will cease to exist. Continue to brutalize a civilian population, and you will only give rise to Hamas 2.0.

    • Vas K says:

      Yes, a political solution would be ideal. Everybody says so. But I’m still waiting for ONE practical suggestion how to achieve it when you have to negotiate with an internationally recognised duplicitous terrorist organisation consisting of rabid fanatics whose only strategy is terrorising, torturing, raping and murdering exclusively innocent civilians. In all due respect elimination is the only solution and playing by “gentlemen’s rules” will only ensure that this conflict will never end.

      • Nas Hodja says:

        > rabid fanatics whose only strategy is terrorising, torturing, raping and murdering exclusively innocent civilians.

        Yeah, the IDF (and now he Settlers as well) have done all this since 1948. Look up the Al-Dawayima Massacre.

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        Unfortunately when someone who hates your guts calls you a terrorist you qualify as one, Hamas is an armed group dealing with the brutal killing of Palestinians by Israel occupiers, they are playing October 7 over and over in the media space for sympathy for being given the taste of their own medicine, ask them to play videos of the 75 years of occupancy, you will be branded a terrorist, unless you support apartheid you will call this a tragedy but if you are a fair being you will understand that Palestine have had a million tragedies including the latest 14000 and the unknown under the rubbles and those killed in the west bank, not ignoring the ones killed in prisons in revenge to October 7

  • Cornay Bester says:

    The latest polls gives over 60% support of hamas in Gaza, over 80% in the West Bank. Over 80% of Israelis is with the IDF. The conclusion is that both sides wants to fight.
    hamas broke the last 5 ceasefires.
    hamas is desperate. A few years back they got over a 1000 Palestinians released for 1 Iraeli soldier. They’re down to 3 for 1 now.

  • Stephanie West says:

    Where are the photos of the Israeli injured victims and bodies? Or are we just buying the media narrative (which means story telling) that all victims are Palestinian?
    There is a difference between war mongering (arguably Israel as it maintains it’s position on land ownership and retaliates to attacks) and bloodthirsty (arguably Palestine who for decades are consistent in their emphasis that their goal is to exterminate the Israelis from the face of the earth).
    Both responses are deadly, but one is rational.

    • John P says:

      Stephanie the photos of Israeli victims were shown all over the world at the time it happened. There are no new Israeli civilian casualties and therefore no new photos to show. By contrast Palestinians have been casualties every day since then, that is news NOT just a media narrative.

  • Israel did not want this war, Israel did not start this war but they will quite rightly end this war

  • Stuart Hulley-Miller says:

    People should remember that talking about Hamas is not talking about the Arab people. It is well documented that Hamas has taken the hardest, always, and openly says that there is only one solution ….. get rid of the Jews and deny them a homeland.
    Also plain is any and every means possible is fair game and justified.
    If the Israelis do not defend themselves by fighting fire with fire, they will be overcome and this will not be a Queensbury rules thing.
    South Africa is behaving in its normal juvenile way buy shouting the loudest and offering opinions and solutions that are one sided and devoid of all reasonableness and understanding of life’s realities, and recommending closing down all contact.
    The Arab World, in the main, are trying hard and keeping communication lines open and maintaining diplomatic channels.
    South Africa is taking the side of the real criminals …… the people who by stopping any form of progress by very devious means, has stopped resolution for over 50 years.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      Hamas has been born out of the suffocating occupation conditions by Israel, that includes detention of children without the option of parents seeing them, murder by the military and settlers, grabbing of Palestinian land by the successive Israel regimes to settle racist settlers from Eastern Europe. To change the narrative of ethnic cleansing and genocide and to seek to blame Hamas does not wash as we do not buy into the lies of Netanyahu and his fascist followers. The Hamas has amended their charter in 2017 to accept the two state solution that Netanyahu has invested all his criminal political life to destroy. Do not spread lies. We should never as human beings celebrate brutal killings and destruction of societies through military means. It is just a US and Israel mirage to think that Hamas can be destroyed. The stupid Biden has not learnt anything in Afghanistan when the US went 20 years to destroy the Taliban and 20 years later they had to leave Afghanistan to the Taliban. As long as the Palestinian question exists so will Hamas and to think of a political solution without Hamas is plainly stupid by both the US and its fascist surrogate state of Israel.

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    Hamas has stated publicly on a number occasions that the people of Gaza are the responsibility of the UN, not theirs. If Hamas, the government of Gaza, had a ounce of compassion for their own the war could stop in a heartbeat. Not rocket science (excuse the pun)

    • John P says:

      A Google search turns up only one report of “an official of Hamas” making the statement that the UN are responsible for the civilians of Gaza, not Hamas. This report from the times of Israel who are probably not unbiased when it comes to Hamas.

  • Lee Major says:

    This is clearly genocide by Israel. The use of chemical weapons, like white phosphorus, is evidence of indiscriminate and intentional attacks on civilians. The killing of thousands of children (8k) and the destruction of more than 50% of homes and civilian infrastructure cannot be legitimate. Depriving an entire population of water is depraved collective punishment, which is evil and a war crime. Calling people antisemitic, self hating Jews and anti-Israel, when they protest this mass-murder is a clear expression of fascism.

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