The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator states that a ceasefire in Gaza is beneficial for everyone involved.
According to Lynn Hastings, the escalation of fighting has resulted in nearly half of the Strip’s population, approximately one million people, seeking refuge in Rafah in the southern area. This has only worsened the already severe situation of health and hunger.
She stated that the safety concerns in Gaza are not solely due to the airstrikes, but also stem from the displacement of people to increasingly cramped areas. This displacement also poses a threat to the humanitarian efforts in the region.
Request for release of captive individuals and prisoners
Ms. Hastings reiterated the belief that a ceasefire could help secure the release of hostages held by Hamas after their attacks in southern Israel on October 7. She also emphasized the need for access to these hostages.
Humanitarian partners should be given access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This access should also extend to medical personnel who have been detained by Israeli forces, including the director of Al-Shifa hospital. The hospital was raided by the military last month.
Ms. Hastings spoke to reporters in Geneva from Jerusalem on Wednesday after the UN General Assembly voted in favor of a “urgent humanitarian ceasefire” on Tuesday, which also called for the release of all hostages and ensuring access for humanitarian aid.
The majority of individuals living in Gaza do not have access to food.
The United Nations representative emphasized that the spread of infectious illnesses in Gaza is a major concern, with fewer than one-third of hospitals operating and overcrowded shelters. Additionally, the vast majority of residents are facing severe food and water shortages.
Nearly half of the people living in the northern region and one third in the southern region are facing extreme levels of hunger, as reported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in a recent evaluation.
Ms. Hastings emphasized that Israel, in its role as the occupier, holds the responsibility to safeguard Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. This includes meeting their fundamental requirements and facilitating unrestricted access to aid. This entails not just permitting aid vehicles to enter Gaza but also allowing humanitarian workers to assist all those in need.
Markets must open
The Humanitarian Coordinator for the United Nations stressed the importance of collaboration between the aid sector, public sector, and commercial sector in providing adequate support to the population of Gaza, just as it is done in other parts of the world.
“We require the markets to remain accessible,” she stated, and for trade to occur in order to prevent a potential malnutrition emergency.
Ms. Hastings expressed satisfaction with the inspection of UN aid vehicles at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which is under Israeli control. This was the first time this has happened since the escalation began. She reported that 80 trucks were checked and approved before being transported to Rafah in order to deliver supplies to the enclave.
She restated the need for Kerem Shalom crossing to fully resume operations for both humanitarian and commercial purposes. Prior to October 7th, this crossing was the primary entry point for goods into the Gaza Strip. She emphasized that the Rafah crossing was not designed to handle a high volume of aid trucks.
Ms. Hastings affirmed that the Israeli authorities have not raised any concerns to the UN regarding the possibility of aid being diverted from their Gaza trucks, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the moral principles of the humanitarian operation.
Assaults on United Nations buildings.
Ms. Hastings brought up the topic of safety concerns regarding UN buildings in the Gaza Strip. She referenced the reported destruction of a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) in Beit Hanoun by Israeli forces using explosives on Tuesday. She emphasized that the UN has not been provided with any valid reason for this action.
Despite efforts to prevent conflict, the UN has reported 130 incidents affecting their facilities since October 7th. Of those, 62 have resulted in casualties. The UNRWA estimates that 283 displaced individuals seeking refuge in their shelters have been killed and nearly 1,000 have been injured.
Ms. Hastings stated that, based on satellite images, approximately 60% of the residences in Gaza have been either harmed or demolished.
Ms. Hastings cautioned against the possibility of the Israeli military flooding underground tunnels in Gaza with seawater, stating that it could result in significant harm to the already weakened water and sanitation infrastructure in the area. She also expressed concern for the delicate ecosystem of the Strip and the potential for buildings and roads to collapse.
Unrest and economic deprivation in the West Bank.
The UN coordinator for humanitarian aid drew attention to the worsening conditions in the West Bank, which has seen 464 Palestinian deaths this year, over half of which occurred since October 7th. Around 3,000 people have been arrested and it is uncertain if they will face charges and receive a fair trial. The number of incidents of settler violence has also increased, with an average of five per day compared to two per day last year.
She expressed serious concerns over the suspension of permits for West Bank workers in Israel and in the settlements, as well as the disruption of trade with Israel, which has resulted in a lack of revenue transfers for the population of the territory.