The Urgent Need for a Humanitarian Ceasefire in Gaza
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, has emphasized the urgent need for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. In a UN emergency meeting, Lazzarini accused Israel of “collective punishment” of Palestinians and forced displacement of civilians. He warned that the breakdown of civil order following the looting of the agency’s warehouses by Palestinians searching for food and aid would make it extremely difficult for the largest UN agency in Gaza to continue operating.
Dire Humanitarian Situation in Gaza
The catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza was highlighted by briefings to the Security Council by Lazzarini, the head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, and a senior UN humanitarian official. According to the latest figures from Gaza’s Ministry of Health, more than 8,300 people have been killed, with 66 percent of them being women and children. UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell revealed that over 3,400 children have been killed and more than 6,300 injured. This alarming number means that more than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza each day.
Israel’s Obligations Under International Humanitarian Law
While many speakers at the council meeting denounced Hamas’ surprise attacks on Israel, they also stressed that Israel is obligated under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and their essentials for life. Israel was criticized for cutting off food, water, fuel, and medicine to Gaza, as well as cutting communications for several days. The lack of aid reaching Gaza through the Rafah crossing from Egypt was also highlighted as inadequate compared to the needs of over 2 million people trapped in Gaza.
Crumbling Basic Services and Impending Health Hazards
The commissioner-general of the UN agency known as UNRWA warned that there is no safe place anywhere in Gaza and that basic services are crumbling. Medicine, food, water, and fuel are running out, and the streets have started overflowing with sewage, posing a massive health hazard. UNICEF’s oversight of water and sanitation issues for the UN has also revealed that the lack of clean water and safe sanitation is on the verge of becoming a catastrophe.
US Urges Action from the Security Council
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield urged the divided Security Council to come together and address the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. She emphasized the need for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, addressing the immense humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians, affirming Israel’s right to defend itself from terrorism, and reminding all actors to respect international humanitarian law. President Joe Biden’s call for humanitarian pauses to allow aid in, get hostages out, and ensure safe passage for civilians was reiterated.
Balancing Responsibility and Protection
Thomas-Greenfield stressed that while Hamas operates within civilian areas, it does not lessen Israel’s responsibility to distinguish between terrorists and innocent civilians. She emphasized that Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians, even with the added burden of Hamas’ tactics. The US is concerned about the escalating Palestinian death toll and has called for Israel to defend its citizens in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.
The Path Forward
After the rejection of four resolutions in the Security Council, Arab nations turned to the UN General Assembly, where a resolution calling for humanitarian truces leading to a cessation of hostilities was adopted. Now, the 10 elected members in the Security Council are attempting to negotiate a resolution that won’t be rejected. While assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they serve as an important barometer of world opinion.
In conclusion, the urgent need for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza cannot be overstated. The dire humanitarian situation, with thousands of lives lost and basic services crumbling, demands immediate action. The international community must come together to protect innocent civilians, address the immense humanitarian needs, and ensure that international humanitarian law is respected. Only through a collective effort can a lasting ceasefire be achieved and the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza be alleviated.