By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS | 20 November 2023 (IDN) — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has continued his relentless criticism of Israel, condemning the daily attacks on civilians in Gaza.
“I am deeply shocked that two UNRWA schools were struck in less than 24 hours in Gaza. Dozens of people—many women and children—were killed and injured as they were seeking safety in United Nations premises,” he said in the latest statement released on 19 November.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians are seeking shelter at United Nations facilities throughout Gaza due to the intensified fighting.
“I reaffirm that our premises are inviolable,” he said.
“This war is having a staggering and unacceptable number of civilian casualties, including women and children, every day. This must stop. I reiterate my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” he declared, expressing his “deep appreciation for all the mediation efforts led by the government of Qatar.”
But his voice has been a voice in the wilderness, as Israel has remained defiant and continued its attacks.
The New York Times ran a front-page lead story 19 November titled “Smoldering Gaza a Graveyard for Children” with over 5,000 Palestinian children killed by Israeli firepower—”and possibly hundreds more”.
Yassir Abu Amar, the Director of the morgue at the Al Aqsa hospital in Gaza, was quoted as saying: “The children’s bodies come to us broken—and in pieces. It is chilling.”
Of those killed, about 41 percent are children, and 25 percent are women. On average, one child is killed, and two are injured every 10 minutes during the war, turning Gaza into a “graveyard for children,” according to the Secretary-General.
In an equally hard-hitting statement released on 19 November, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, said, “The horrendous events of the past 48 hours in Gaza beggar belief.”
The killing of so many people at schools turned shelters, hundreds fleeing for their lives from Al-Shifa Hospital, amid continuing displacement of hundreds of thousands in southern Gaza, are actions which fly in the face of the basic protections that civilians must be afforded under international law, he said.
Images purportedly taken in the aftermath of the reported Israeli strike on Al Fakhoura school are horrifying, clearly showing large numbers of women, children and men severely wounded or killed. At least three other schools hosting displaced Palestinians have also been attacked in the past 48 hours, he added.
“Israeli military operations have been continuing inside and around Al Shifa hospital. UN colleagues visited the site yesterday, and witnessed first-hand what they described as a ‘death zone’. “
Medical personnel, patients, and civilians have fled the hospital, ordered to do so by the Israeli military. Hundreds were seen making their way south on foot, at great risk to their lives, health and safety. And to where? Nowhere is safe in Gaza, said Turk.
In Khan Younis, the Israeli Defense Forces are dropping leaflets demanding residents go to unspecified “recognized shelters”, even as strikes take place across Gaza. Already displaced Palestinians — deprived by extreme restrictions on life-saving assistance — are struggling to meet their basic needs, forced into ever-diminishing, over-crowded, unsanitary, unsafe spaces. Irrespective of warnings, Israel is obliged to protect civilians wherever they are.
Rules of international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in carrying out the attacks, must be strictly adhered to. Failure to adhere to these rules may constitute war crimes, he argued.
The pain, dread, and fear etched on the faces of children, women and men is too much to bear. How much more violence, bloodshed and misery will it take before people come to their senses? How many more civilians will be killed?, he asked.
This must stop, he declared. “Humanity must come first. A ceasefire – on humanitarian and human rights grounds – is desperately needed. Now.”
Last week Guterres paid tribute to the 103 UN staffers killed so far in Gaza— the largest loss during a conflict in the Organization’s 78-year history.
The Secretary-General, led the minute of silence at UN Headquarters in New York, which was held in the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Chamber.
He stood before UN Resident Coordinators from around the world, who were meeting in New York last week, flanked by Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and the President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis.
The fallen colleagues worked for the UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, UNRWA, providing life-saving aid to Gaza’s 2.2 million people, amid constant bombardment over the past month and a complete siege of the enclave.
They were school principals, teachers, and health workers, including a gynecologist, engineers, support staff, and a psychologist.
“UNRWA staff in Gaza appreciate the UN lowering the flag around the world. In Gaza, however, we have to keep the UN flag flying high as a sign that we are still standing and serving the people of Gaza,” said Tom White, the agency’s Director in the Gaza Strip, speaking from Rafah.
Meanwhile, a group of UN experts also pointed out last week that the bombardment and siege of Gaza have reportedly killed over 11,000 people, injured more than 27,000 and displaced 1.6 million persons since 7 October 2023, while thousands are still under the rubble.
Almost 200 medics, 103 UN staffers, 41 journalists, frontline and human rights defenders, have also been killed, while dozens of families over five generations have been wiped out.
The experts also raised the alarm about the escalation of violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, by soldiers and armed settlers. Since 7 October 2023, at least 190 Palestinians have been killed, more than 2,700 injured, and over 1,100 individuals displaced in the occupied West Bank. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: Babies at Al-Helal Al-Emarati Hospital in Rafah. November 2023. Credit: UNICEF
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