WHO appeals for regular access to Palestinian enclave amid ongoing Israeli strikes

20 May 2021

The UN health agency has added its weight to calls for regular humanitarian access to Gaza, where two dozen medical facilities have now come under attack through Israeli air strikes, along with healthcare personnel.

In a World Health Organization (WHO) press conference on Thursday, senior officials highlighted the “almost total destruction” of the central COVID-19 testing lab in Gaza City, along with “severe restrictions” on deliveries of medical supplies.

Key needs from the health agency include an end to the violence, ensuring the protection of civilians and healthcare facilities, and support for emergency medical treatment.

Dr Richard Brennan, WHO Regional Emergency Director, highlighted rising concerns over the lack of access through the regular crossing points to Gaza:

“We need a ceasefire, we need humanitarian pauses, we need humanitarian access, we need all the crossings open…to let the aid in and the sick and injured out.”

The head of WHO’s office in the West Bank and Gaza, Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, also urged immediate aid access.

“It’s incredibly frustrating, but it is deeply sad for the people of Gaza. That is why we call on all parties to actually agree to this humanitarian pause to make sure that this humanitarian convoy has access to Gaza.”

He said access needed to be assured for the coming weeks and months, “to assist Gaza with acute needs, but also then with building up…health infrastructure and health systems, to make sure that we get functioning primary healthcare systems on the ground as soon as possible”.

UN continues mediation effort

Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, spent Thursday in Qatar as part of the UN effort to restore calm in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

UN Spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, told journalists at the regular noon briefing in New York, that "we are actively engaged with all the relevant parties for an immediate ceasefire."

He said the UN Secretary-General António Guterres was continuing "his intensive contacts with the parties and pertinent regional and international stakeholders", holding a group meeting on Thursday with Arab Ministers to discuss the current situation.

Tireless efforts to bring about a ceasefire, were continuing, said Mr. Dujarric, "to ensure humanitarian access, and to achieve a political solution that ends the occupation and realizes the two States living side by side in peace and security." 

Deaths, injuries continue

Latest UN data indicates that the clashes – which are the most serious since conflict of 2014 – have claimed the lives of at least 219 Palestinians, including 64 children and 36 women, and injured thousands more.

There have also been at least 12 fatalities in Israel, including two children, and hundreds of injuries, from rockets fired by Hamas, which has controlled the enclave since 2006, and other militant groups.

Hostilities between Israeli forces and armed groups in Gaza continued for the eleventh day, said a flash update from the UN humanitarian office, OCHA, released late on Thursday. OHCHR, the UN human rights office, verified that in the 24-hour period from mid-Wednesday to noon on Thursday, eleven Palestinians were killed, including at least seven civilians, two of whom were girls. 

Another 190 people were injured. "Hostilities have also resulted in additional displacement of Palestinians, bringing the cumulative number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to about 91,000", said the update, including 66,000 seeking protection in 58 UN-run schools across Gaza and over 25,000 staying with host families.

 

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