Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today spoke with United Nations staff in Gaza via Skype and thanked them for their courageous efforts amid the ongoing conflict, which has now displaced over 140,000 people in the area.
Mr. Ban expressed his solidarity with the staff of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) during the call from Cairo, where he is wrapping up a week-long emergency mission that took him to Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
“I’m still working very hard to bring an end to this intolerable situation,” Mr. Ban told the staff, who briefed him on their efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, as well as the daily challenges they face.
“The Palestinian people here are suffering a lot,” one staff member told the Secretary-General, “and they really need help from you and the international community.”
UNRWA figures as of 24 July show the number of displaced people in Gaza is now nearly triple the peak number from the 2008-2009 conflict, and exceeds 140,000 people who have sought refuge in 83 schools.
“We have filled every available safe shelter,” said one staffer. “We need an end to the hostilities and we need an agreement that addresses the blockade and some of the other security and political problems.”
The conversation with staff comes a day after an UNRWA-run school in Beit Hanoun where hundreds of displaced Gazans had taken refuge from the ongoing hostilities came under attack, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries.
Today an UNRWA team, which included an international weapons expert, went to the school to survey the scene in the aftermath of the incident. However, the mission had to be cut short and the team was forced to leave the area amid gunfire around the school.
“The Relief and Works Agency regrets not being able complete even this initial assessment,” UN spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters. “It will attempt to visit the site when the situation allows.”
The Secretary-General, who is in the region to express solidarity with Israelis and Palestinians and to help them end the current cycle of violence, had deplored yesterday’s attack on the school, saying it underscored the imperative for the killing to stop immediately.
On 21 July 2014 in the State of Palestine, children use a candle in lieu of electric lighting at the United Nations school where they and others have taken refuge after fleeing heavy fighting, in the town of Rafah in southern Gaza. By 21 July, the number of children killed in the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Gaza, which began on 8 July, had surpassed 100, representing nearly a quarter of all Palestinian fatalities. Photo: UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0982/El Baba
He also stressed to all sides that they must abide by their international obligations to respect the sanctity of civilian life and the inviolability of UN premises, and to honour their obligations to humanitarian workers.
The attack was also condemned by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which said the incident is proof that much more needs to be done to protect innocent children. “Using or attacking school premises where children have taken refuge from the violence is unacceptable under any circumstances,” it said in a statement.
Gordon Brown, the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, said the attack as well as the death of innocent children will be seen as an “international outrage” which will sadden millions throughout the world. “Schools should never be theatres of war but should be safe havens for boys and girls,” he stated.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to help evacuate the large number of injured people from Gaza. The local WHO office has been discussing this with the Israeli authorities over the last few days, and consultations are also being held with Egyptian authorities.
Also, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) said today it is deeply concerned about the impact of the ongoing conflict on women’s health and their access to safe births. Reports of the destruction of hospitals and health facilities are particularly disturbing as some 45,000 pregnant women in Gaza are currently in need of maternity care, the agency said in a news release.
About 5,000 of those are among the 140,000 displaced people in temporary shelters throughout Gaza. Due to mounting stress and anxiety, many of these women are likely to face obstetric complications, while access to maternal health services is increasingly limited by the conflict.
“It is critical that humanitarian assistance, including medical supplies and equipment, be given safe passage into Gaza to enable us to provide the much-needed assistance to pregnant women,” said UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin. “Pregnant women in particular must be allowed unhindered access to maternal health services to ensure their safety throughout their pregnancy and childbirth.”
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it has reached over 160,000 conflict-affected people in Gaza with emergency food assistance. This is in addition to the 285,000 people WFP reaches regularly with food assistance.
The emergency relief included emergency ready-to-eat food for 140,469 displaced people in Gaza who had taken refuge in UNRWA schools and to 10,000 people who were sheltered in public school buildings. It also included emergency electronic food vouchers to 1,318 displaced families – approximately 7,908 people – who are living with host families. Also, some 2,000 patients and staff in hospitals continue to be assisted with emergency food rations.