‘Humanity must prevail’ in Gaza, says UN official as refugee shelters become IDF targets

"Wars have rules," said the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. "Civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics, and UN premises cannot be a target."

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SOURCECommon Dreams

The emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations on Saturday said that “humanity is failing” as officials in the United States and other powerful Western countries refused to hear the calls of a growing number of humanitarian groups, progressive lawmakers, and governments for a cease-fire in Gaza—allowing Israel to forge ahead with what will likely be an imminent ground assault on the blockaded enclave.

“The past week has been a test for humanity,” said Martin Griffiths one week after Hamas unleashed a brutal surprise attack on Israel, killing at least 1,300 people and taking scores of people hostage. As Israel’s response has targeted Gaza—home to two million people, about half of whom are children—repeated airstrikes have bombarded “homes, schools, shelters, health centers, and places of worship,” Griffith said, leaving at least 2,215 Palestinians dead, including more than 600 children.

“Entire residential neighborhoods have been razed to the ground,” added Griffiths, who serves as under secretary-general for humanitarian affairs at the United Nations. “Aid workers have been killed. The humanitarian situation in Gaza, already critical, is fast becoming untenable.”

Griffith’s comments came as the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) reported that the indiscriminate bombing campaign has placed its own shelters in “unprecedented” danger, making it impossible for workers to ensure the safety of some 270,000 people who have been displaced and sought shelter at 102 schools run by the agency.

“Wars have rules. Civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics, and UN premises cannot be a target,” said the UNWRA said in a statement. “We are sparing no effort to advocate with parties to the conflicts to meet their obligations under international law to protect civilians including those seeking refuge in UNRWA shelters.”

Al Jazeera reported Saturday that correspondents have observed an increased presence of tanks near Sderot, Israel, close to northern Gaza, suggesting the ground invasion that has been threatened in recent days could be imminent.

The continuous bombardment of Gaza has already led to overcrowding in hospitals including Gaza’s largest healthcare facility, with one surgeon telling Al Jazeera the overwhelming demand could lead to an infectious disease outbreak—compounding the catastrophe already underway as Israel has refused to open an humanitarian corridor to allow medical and other types of aid into Gaza.

Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, told the outlet it is “absolutely critical” for humanitarian aid to be delivered.

“Hospitals are overwhelmed, people cannot get treatment, kids with burns have no pain relief,” she said. “The will to open that border is the thing that’s missing.”

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi agreed to open a corridor on Thursday, but Israel has yet to allow delivery.

“We are particularly concerned about the devastating impact on the 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza right now and newborn babies, who are all left without essential medical care,” said Riham Jafari, coordinator of advocacy and communication in Palestine for ActionAid, in a statement.

As the violence escalated, protests broke out across the globe—from the Philippines, to countries across the Middle East, to Finland, England, and Ireland on Friday and Saturday, with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign reporting that 150,000 people marched through London to demand Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak end his support for Israel’s bombardment.

“I’m here because I’m human,” one marcher told Al Jazeera Arabic, calling the Israeli onslaught “a collective punishment, a war crime.”

Griffiths called on “all countries with influence” to exert their power to “ensure respect for the rules of war,” instead of publicly stating that Israel has the right “to defend itself” without demanding the IDF take steps to preserve civilian lives.

“It’s been a dreadful week,” said Griffiths. “Humanity must prevail.”

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