UN calls for daily 'humanitarian pauses' to deliver aid in Gaza

U.N. Security Council expresses 'great disappointment' that calls for a ceasefire are ignored

The U.N. humanitarian chief called Thursday for daily “humanitarian pauses” until a long-term cease-fire is reached between Israel and Hamas in order to deliver relief to hundreds of thousands in need in Gaza, rescue the injured and give civilians a reprieve from the war.

The U.N. Security Council expressed “great disappointment” that its call Monday for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” has not been heeded, and reiterated “in the strongest terms” its demand for implementation.

The council issued “press elements” — its lowest form of response — after hearing briefings from U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos and Pierre Krahenbuhl, head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, who warned that the population of Gaza “is facing a precipice.”

Amos said the world has watched “in horror the desperation of children and civilians that have come under attack” in Gaza. Over 80 per cent of the more than 1,300 Palestinians killed have been civilians, including 251 children, she said by videoconference from Trinidad and Tobago.

“The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe,” Amos said, citing attacks on over 103 U.N. facilities, including one on a school Wednesday that killed 19 people and injured more than 100.

Krahenbuhl told the council by phone from Gaza City that his agency, UNRWA, is overwhelmed trying to help more than 220,000 people who have fled to U.N. facilities seeking safety.

That is four times higher than the peak number of displaced people in the last Gaza conflict in 2008-09 and there are new arrivals every day, he said.

“Conditions are increasingly dire in the shelters,” he said. “There is no water for hygiene, very few showers, and latrines are totally inadequate. Disease outbreak is beginning with skin infections, scabies and others.”

Krahenbuhl said UNRWA is concerned at reports of new instructions from the Israeli military to evacuate Gaza City’s Zeitoun area.

Amos stressed that the fighting, now in its 24th day, is making the delivery of aid difficult, noting that 80 per cent of the population relied on U.N. assistance even before the conflict.

She called for “daily, predictable” humanitarian pauses that are “adequate in length” for humanitarian workers to get aid to the need, rescue the injured, recover the dead and allow civilians to restock their homes.

The Security Council encouraged the use of “humanitarian corridors,” but Krahenbuhl said earlier they have proven ineffective.

Krahenbuhl said a cease-fire, “while immediately required, is not enough.”

“Notwithstanding Israel’s legitimate security concerns, the illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted,” he said.

Krahenbuhl warned that Gaza will become “unlivable” for its 1.8 million inhabitants in a few years unless urgent steps are taken by the international community to enable the development of Gaza and ensure security in the region.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, told reporters “There is no safe place in the Gaza Strip, and it is so obvious that the entire civilian population is under attack by the Israeli army and Israeli extremist, rightist government …”

Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor held up a photo which he said showed a launch site for Hamas rockets to be fired at Israel in a populated area, near a school.

“In Gaza, nothing is off-limits for Hamas — not hospitals, where it sets up command centres, and certainly not U.N. schools, where stores of rockets have been found in recent days,” he said.