The United Nations’ emergency relief coordinator warned Tuesday that devastating violence in Israel and Gaza has pushed the entire region to a “tipping point” and demanded an immediate cessation of all attacks as the civilian death toll continues to climb.
“Hundreds of Israelis have been killed and thousands have been injured. Scores are being held captive, facing appalling threats to their lives. Thousands of indiscriminate rockets have been launched into Israel,” Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a statement amid growing global calls for a cease-fire.
“In densely populated Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians have been killed and thousands have been injured in intense bombing. Homes, health centers, and schools sheltering displaced families have been hit,” Griffiths continued, noting that the occupied enclave is now under a total blockade imposed by the Israeli government.
“My message to all sides is unequivocal: The laws of war must be upheld,” said Griffiths, who called the scale and speed of the ongoing violence “bone-chilling.”
Roughly 1,200 people in Israel have been killed in Hamas attacks that began on Saturday, when gunmen breached the Israeli border at dozens of points and overran several towns, massacring civilians. Israel responded with a large-scale bombing campaign in Gaza that has killed at least 950 people, including hundreds of children and entire families. The nation is also preparing a massive, potentially monthslong ground invasion, with the support of U.S. weaponry.
International human rights groups have expressed horror over the deadly violence and accused Hamas and Israeli forces of war crimes for deliberately targeting civilians. Officials in Israel—pursuing what the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem described as a “criminal policy of revenge”—have openly stated that the ongoing bombing campaign in Gaza is designed to inflict widespread damage, not to precisely hit Hamas installations.
One unnamed security official told an Israeli media outlet on Tuesday that “Gaza will eventually turn into a city of tents” and “there will be no buildings.”
Griffiths said Tuesday that “the violence must stop” and “hostages must be released without delay.” But as long as the violence persists, “civilians and civilian infrastructure must be protected” and “civilians must be allowed to leave for safer areas.”
“And humanitarian relief and vital services and supplies to Gaza must not be blocked,” he added. “The whole region is at a tipping point.”
The World Health Organization and aid groups warned Tuesday that Gaza hospitals are already overwhelmed and running low on critical supplies, a crisis that’s likely to worsen amid continued bombing and Israeli’s decision to cut off the flow of electricity, food, and fuel to the besieged enclave. The World Food Program is calling for humanitarian corridors to allow food and other aid to reach Gazans.
“The situation in Gaza is catastrophic,” Léo Cans, head of mission for Palestine at Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said in a statement Tuesday. “The number of wounded is extremely high—there is a constant influx into all the hospitals in the Gaza Strip. The medical teams are exhausted, working around the clock to treat the wounded.”
“Yesterday morning, we received a 13-year-old boy whose body was almost completely burned after a bomb fell right next to his house, starting a fire,” said Cans. “The intensity of the violence and bombardments is shocking, as is the death toll. The declaration of war must not, under any circumstances, lead to collective punishment of the population of Gaza. Cutting off water, electricity, and fuel supplies is unacceptable, as it punishes the entire population and deprives them of their basic needs.”