'Nowhere and no one is safe' in Gaza, WHO chief tells Security Council
The UN Security Council met again on Friday to discuss the ongoing Israel-Palestine crisis as negotiations continue behind the scenes within the 15 member body to reach some consensus position over the war raging in Gaza. Ambassadors heard searing testimony from the UN health agency chief who said the entire health system of the enclave was now "on its knees". Catch up with the full meeting via UN Web TV here.
That's it from this latest UN Security Council meeting on the Israel-Palestine crisis, where consensus among the body's 15 members remains elusive.
Here are the main highlights from today's humanitarian briefings:
- Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), called for a ceasefire to save lives and speed the delivery of much needed aid, saying “nowhere and no one is safe” in Gaza
- The UN health chief also said medical staff continue to grapple with trying to manage the growing needs of 2.3 million people without the lifesaving aid required to treat the ill and injured
- Marwan Jilani, Director General of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, said Gaza’s “health sector is under attack”, calling on the Council to step up to do its part to end the violence, ensure international humanitarian law is upheld and open safe pathways for aid
- At the outset of the meeting, everyone in the Council Chamber stood for a minute of silence for all those who lost their lives in Israel due to the 7 October attacks and all those Palestinian civilians who have died during the fighting
- Visit our colleagues at UN Meetings Coverage for summaries of this and other UN meetings in English and French
Nowhere and no one is safe in Gaza: Tedros
“In Gaza, nowhere and no one is safe," said WHO Director-General Tedros, speaking again as the meeting came to a close.
"Imagine...imagine that you’re trapped in that situation,” he asked ambassadors.
"That’s why we’re asking for a ceasefire and unfettered humanitarian access," he said. "And at the same time, of course, we’re also asking for the Security Council to do everything for the release of hostages.”
Two States: The long-term solution
On the two-State solution, he said he had long believed the Gaza situation was simply unsustainable.
He said apart from being beneficial for a Palestinian State, it is a good solution for Israel too.
He added that he had been glad to hear many in the Council Chamber, stressing the importance of a two-State solution as “the long-term solution”.
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China: ‘Enough is enough’
Ambassador Zhang Jun of China, whose country holds the Council presidency for November, said, in his national capacity, that the situation has deteriorated beyond a humanitarian crisis.
Recalling a meeting with parties concerned convened in his capacity as Council president, he said he was struck by their expectation for the Council to take effective action.
“In the face of all this, the world must speak out together,” he said. “Enough is enough.”
The Council must take meaningful action to uphold justice and maintain peace.
That includes facilitating a sustained truce and the opening of a corridor to deliver aid and responding to the UN appeal to establish a medical evacuation mechanism.
"A ceasefire is the only hope for the people of Gaza to survive,” he said, calling on those with influence to put aside differences and end the violence.
“There is no time to lose in saving lives,” he said, adding that no future can deviate from the two-State solution. As such, China stands ready to contribute to facilitate peace in the Middle East.
Russia: Safe zones ‘do not exist in the Gaza Strip’
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the “shocking” briefings from humanitarians and the current situation describe a “catastrophe”, with massive destruction of civilian targets.
Turning to the colossal shortage of such basic supplies as water, he said if needs are not met, the consequences and fallout will continue for decades to come.
“In all wars, there are laws,” he said, referring to a recent report of strikes against hospitals and mosques in southern Gaza. “Safe zones today simply do not exist in the Gaza Strip.”
Mr. Nebenzia said violence in the West Bank also deserves the Council’s close scrutiny amid reports of collective punishment and arbitrary arrests and a reported 148 Palestinian deaths.
A prompt ceasefire, and not short-term pauses, is the only way to end new casualties and allow aid deliveries. The risk of the conflict spilling into the region are serious, he said. Enhanced foreign military presence in the zone, specifically the US, are part of the overall escalation of tensions.
As such, he underlined the need to relaunch the peace process in the Middle East.
United Kingdom: Pauses in northern Gaza are ‘first step’
Barbara Woodward, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the UK, said it is essential and urgent that more aid flows into Gaza through Rafah and other crossing points to meet current desperate humanitarian needs.
As such, pauses must be implemented to allow aid delivery, including fuel, and the hostages must be released.
“Pauses in northern Gaza are a first step,” she said, but any such efforts must ensure the needed time and security to allow aid to be delivered. International humanitarian law is not “nice to have” but what keeps medical workers, civilians and related infrastructure safe, she said, calling on both sides to live up to their obligations under international law.
Expressing condolences for each life lost, she said Israel must do more to prevent an escalation of the situation in the West Bank. In closing, she said the UK remains unwaveringly committed to the two-State solution.
United States: Two-State solution ‘only path to peace’
US Deputy Permanent Representative Robert Wood said his delegation has empathy for both sides, adding that “acknowledging one party’s suffering does not negate or detract from the other’s.”
Washington is monitoring the situation at Gaza hospitals, he said, highlighting the need to protect them and the civilians they serve and that “much more work remains to be done to meet humanitarian needs in Gaza.”
“How Israel responds to Hamas, matters,” but its response must respect international humanitarian law, he said. Meanwhile, humanitarian needs in Gaza are immense, he added, stressing that pauses in hostilities can provide a route to get aid to those in need.
“We are all committed to work towards these ends,” he said. “It is time to step up and support the efforts of the UN.”
Underlining the necessity of ending the conflict to secure lasting peace in the region, he said “the only path to peace is through a two-State solution.”
United Arab Emirates: World witnessing birth of 'lost generation'
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Zaki Nusseibeh paid tribute to the silent heroes who are delivering lifesaving medical assistance in Gaza.
She also shared stories about some of the people affected by the conflict, such as a medical student called Alaa whose home was levelled in an Israeli airstrike. The young woman was pulled alive from the rubble, along with the lifeless bodies of her mother, brother and nephew.
“I feel the need to remind the Council that, like Alaa, every single one of the 2,650 currently reported as trapped under rubble are human beings and that more than half of them are children,” she said.
The UAE is establishing a field hospital in Gaza, working in solidarity with local medical personnel and in cooperation with Israel, to help alleviate the suffering. However, she said, this is but “a plaster on a fracture”.
She said there can be no doubt that the attacks by Israel in pursuit of its security are disproportionate, cruel and inhumane, which she condemned in the strongest possible terms.
“We must also not forget that those held hostage in Gaza by Hamas, many of them children, are also suffering under the same bombardment and psychological trauma and they must be released immediately,” she added.
The Ambassador warned that the world was “witnessing the making of a lost generation of children and youth physically and mentally scarred by these experiences.”
Israel: Hamas guilty of war crimes ‘of epic proportions’
Gilad Erdan, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Israel, said Israelis had endured a pogrom five weeks ago on a par with the Kristallnacht massacres of November 1938 under the Nazis.
He said the focus of the briefing was on Gaza’s hospitals, but made no mention of a direct attack on an Israeli hospital just a few days ago by Hamas rockets.
He said Hamas fighters had been shooting at ambulances to prevent them from helping the wounded and that Israel had exposed that Hamas has its main headquarters in and underneath Al Shifa hospital, using ambulances as a means of transporting weapons.
“Every inch of Gaza has been turned into a terror trap,” he said, adding that “nothing is sacred” to "these Hamas terrorists".
“It is a war crime of epic proportions,” he continued. “How can we possibly hold a briefing on the medical situation without making this the primary issue of this meeting?”
For weeks, he said, Israel has given civilians all due warning and safe passage to leave the Hamas controlled warzone while Hamas is preventing them from doing so.
‘Above and beyond’
He said Israel has gone “above and beyond to mitigate civilian casualties”. For Israelis, life is sacred, but for Hamas, it is death.
Mr. Erdan attacked senior UN officials for not reflecting the truth of the situation on the ground. “Sadly, they are relaying falsehoods that are completely detached from reality,” he claimed.
WHO’s briefing was based on information from Hamas, not the UN’s own employees, he said, adding that the UN system was now “enabling terrorism” in relation to the war in Gaza.
Ambassador Erdan said that in welcoming Iran to speak in New York, the UN had “completely lost its moral compass”, with Hamas publicly declaring they would carry out further atrocities, given the chance.
The only way to prevent any repetition was to eliminate the group’s capabilities, he insisted.
Focusing on solutions for Gazan civilians following the destruction of Hamas should be the focus of this meeting and not anything else, he concluded.
Palestine: ‘Stop the massacre’
Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the observer State of Palestine, appealed to the Council to “stop the massacre; stop it now”.
“The General Assembly resolution must be implemented; the Security Council must echo its calls,” he said.
“Don’t let another day pass negotiating how many dozens trucks will enter; they need to enter every day by the hundreds and the thousands,” he said. “The voice of the humanitarian agencies needs to be heard, the screams of our people need to be heard and the bombs need to be silenced. Now, not later.”
Mounting death toll
He said the shocking situation must be addressed, as the death toll mounts, recalling that the Council first meeting on the matter last month occurred when hundreds of Palestinians had been killed and today that number has reached 11,000, including 4,500 children.
“We meet and you can hear in these halls, if you listen well, the shouts of our children under the rubble abandoned by humanity,” he said. “We meet as only a few hundred trucks have entered Gaza in 30 days and 10 times more souls have left to the skies.”
The same suffering his generation faced is now tormenting young Palestinians today, he said.
“The killer never hid his intentions; he spoke of mighty vengeance and human animals and declared he would impose a terrifying siege,” he said. “He called for the release of 200 hostages while taking over two million hostages in the process.”
Israel continues to bomb Gaza, Mr. Mansour said.
“They want us out of our country, out of our land,” he said. “Their strategic enemy is the independence of our state, the freedom of our people. The only options they have ever given us: submit, leave or die. Or in international legal terms: apartheid, ethnic cleansing or genocide.”
Today, Israel is allowing enough trucks "to pretend it is not imposing the siege", but not enough to save lives and is implementing "imaginary humanitarian pauses" whose only goal is to force people to flee and not to offer them some relief that their survival is guaranteed, he said.
“I used to come here to call for international protection from the constant assault against our people; now I come to address the survival of my people,” he said. “I used to come here to say protect my people from war crimes and crimes against humanity. Now I come to call for protection from genocide.”
If there are rules, then they must apply to Israel too and if there are rights, then the Palestinian people are entitled to them too, he said, adding that there should be “no double standards, no exception and no exceptionalism”.
Palestine Red Crescent Society: ‘Health sector is under attack’
Marwan Jilani, Director General of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, provided an overview of recent events, noting that he had to rewrite his statement several times as the situation is “changing by the minute”.
People are getting shot at "as we speak", with 20 injured due to direct fire at the Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City. Thousands are under imminent threat of being killed, he warned.
There were 14,000 displaced civilians at Al Quds, with the main generator shut off due to lack of fuel. he said. Now, there is "serious risk" that all intensive care patients and babies on incubators could die.
Raising other concerns, he said diseases were beginning to spread.
Lives were been lost at an alarming rate, he said, adding that 36 members of one senior medic's family had been killed. The description of mass death could not do justice to the horrors and trauma of sleeping under the "terrorizing bombardment", he said.
Calling for fuel to be urgently allowed into the Gaza Strip, he said many would starve or die of disease without fuel.
He called on the Council to demand an effective and immediate ceasefire, together with emergency aid for the north of Gaza.
"Listen to the cries of children soaked in blood", he said, who are wondering why the world is so indifferent to their lives.
WHO's Tedros: Health system is ‘on its knees’
The situation on the ground in Gaza is grim, said the WHO chief, from hospitals conducting operations without anaesthesia to the fact that a child is killed every ten minutes.
“Nowhere and no one is safe,” he said, adding that medical staff are grappling to try to manage the health needs of 2.3 million people.
Since the start of the conflict, there have been more than 250 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and 25 in Israel, including hospitals, clinics, patients and ambulances, he said. More than 100 UN colleagues have been killed. Half of Gaza’s hospitals are not functioning at all and the remaining are operating far beyond their capacities.
“The health system is on its knees,” he said.
Tedros said he fully understood the anger and grief of the Israeli people following the "barbaric" Hamas attacks. The killing of 1,400 was "incomprehensible", he added, noting the mental health consequences for survivors would continue for a long time.
Gravely concerned for the hostages still being held, he said he would meet with more of their families next week in Geneva.
He said he also understood the anger, grief and fear of the people of Gaza, suffering "the destruction of their families, their homes, their communities and the life they knew".
Tedros said having lived through war as a child and as a parent, he well understood the suffering and horror being experienced in Gaza today.
Expressing a long-held view and drawing on his experience as foreign minister of Ethiopia, he said the Council itself does not serve the purpose for which it was established and not for the 21st century, adding that “to remain credible, relevant and a force for peace in our world, Member States…must take seriously the need to reform the Security Council.”
Urgent aid, now
The WHO chief said the best way to show support is providing what health workers need to save lives. About 63 tonnes of such aid has been sent, but unfettered access is needed to reach the civilians, who are not responsible for the crisis.
An average of 500 trucks per day crossed into Gaza with essential supplies before the conflict. Following two-week-long closure of all crossing into Gaza, only 650 aid trucks have entered the enclave since 21 October, he said.
WHO continues to call for a ceasefire. He also called on Hamas to release the hostages and on Israel to restore supplies of water, electricity and especially fuel. In addition, he called for both sides to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.
“I understand what the children of Gaza must be going through because as a child, I went through the same,” he said, recalling the sounds of tracer bullets, gunfire and “the smell and images” of war. “I know what war means.”
Israeli and Palestinian children and families want peace and security.
Israel and Palestine have both been invited to take part in the meeting, without objection.
First to speak will be the head of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
China's ambassador brings the 9472nd meeting of the Council to order. The delegation holds the Council presidency for November. Everybody is standing for a minute of silence for all those who lost their lives in Israel due to the 7 October attacks and all those Palestinian civilians who have died during the fighting.
Ambassadors and their delegations are still making their way into the Security Council Chamber and beginning to take their seats around the iconic horseshoe table. Some are having animated conversations ahead of the start.
After multiple efforts to find a unified response since the initial terror attacks by Hamas on 7 October and full-scale siege and incursion into Gaza by Israeli forces, the Security Council is meeting to hear a briefing by World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and by the Director General of the Palestine Red Crescent Society Marwan Jilani on the current situation on the ground.
The United Arab Emirates called for the meeting, citing "the spiraling health crisis amidst continued attacks on hospitals".
This will be the seventh time that the Council has convened on the current crisis since 7 October.
“We keep hoping and yearning for a united message from the Security Council to see an end to the conflict in Gaza; it hasn’t happened,” Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, told reporters at UN Headquarters earlier on Friday.
This week, the Council met privately to discuss the matter. At the same time, the General Assembly convened its resumed tenth emergency special session on the crisis.
Here are the highlights from the Security Council's last open meeting on 30 October on the deteriorating situation:
- UAE and China called for the emergency meeting after Israel expanded its ground operations into Gaza
- Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, briefed ambassadors on the dire humanitarian situation in the ravaged enclave, stressing women and children cannot be “collateral damage”
- UNICEF chief Catherine Russell outlined the impact on children on both sides who are experiencing terrible trauma, “the consequences of which could last a lifetime”
- Lisa Doughten, senior UN humanitarian official from OCHA, underscored the need for a pause in the fighting to provide respite for desperate civilians “living under unimaginably traumatic conditions”
- Security Council members recalled the General Assembly’s resolution on the crisis, reiterating that international humanitarian law must be respected, adopted on 27 October at its resumed emergency special session
Visit our explainers on how the Security Council works during a crisis and negotiates resolutions or ends up in deadlock and what is a UN General Assembly emergency special session and why it matters. Check out more of our explainers here.