Gaza: ‘Hospitals are not battlegrounds’, children’s suffering must stop, UN humanitarians say
Children have been killed, maimed, abducted and denied assistance in Gaza, and the parties to the conflict must “stop this horror”, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) chief Catherine Russell said during a visit to the enclave as humanitarian operations there ground to a halt on Wednesday for lack of fuel.
Her comments came amid reports on Wednesday morning of an ongoing Israeli Defense Forces raid inside Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, where patients including premature babies have died over the course of the past days after incubators and other life-saving equipment lost power.
“Hospitals are not battlegrounds,” UN relief chief Martin Griffiths wrote on social platform X, insisting that “the protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns”.
Ms. Russell condemned the “grave violations” against children committed by the parties to the conflict and said that she was in Gaza “to do whatever I can to advocate for the protection of children”.
“Inside the Strip, there is nowhere safe for Gaza’s one million children to turn,” she said, highlighting that more than 4,600 children have reportedly been killed and nearly 9,000 injured.
Many children are believed buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings, “the tragic result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas”, she said.
The UNICEF chief described hearing harrowing stories from her agency’s staff on the ground and stressed the high risk to humanitarian actors operating inside Gaza. Since 7 October 102 staff members of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) have been killed in the enclave.
Ms. Russell reiterated calls for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”, the release of all abducted and detained children, and for “safe, sustained and unimpeded access” for humanitarians to people in need.
Mr. Griffiths, the UN’s top aid official, told UN News that from a humanitarian perspective and outside of any military considerations, “our problem is protecting the people of Gaza”.
He stressed that Gazans are in a “horrific situation in which they have no escape and are being asked to move in conditions of danger”.
Over 1.5 million people in Gaza are estimated to be internally displaced, including about 787,000 who are staying in some 154 UNRWA shelters, where massive overcrowding is leading to the spread of disease.
The UN humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA headed by Mr. Griffiths reported on Wednesday that displaced people staying in makeshift tents outside the shelters in southern Gaza for lack of room are now suffering from the onset of heavy rains and flooding.
Aid trucks at a standstill
Regarding the lack of fuel, which has not been allowed into the Strip since the start of the crisis, Mr. Griffiths said that “we need at least a couple hundred thousand litres to get us moving again”.
UNRWA said on Tuesday night that its trucks inside Gaza were not able to pick up aid coming in through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt that day because they don’t have fuel.
According to media reports late on Tuesday night, Israel gave approval for 24,000 litres of diesel fuel to be used solely by trucks for UN operations but it was not clear when and how the fuel would be delivered.
‘Ready to go’
Mr. Griffiths explained that a ceasefire was also necessary to let the private sector operate and allow depleted shops to restock. “That’s just as important as our operations, if not more,” he said.
“We are right there, sitting in front of those people, at the borders of Gaza, in Rafah, ready to go” and to “try to reach people where they are”, he insisted in his plea for access.
“It is a standard way of operation in a crisis like this,” he said.