Scoop, New York, January 27 2009 - The top United Nations humanitarian official today called on Israel to immediately open up crossing points into Gaza for full access to relief aid following its devastating three-week offensive against Hamas militants.
“Israel has a particular responsibility as the occupying power in this context, because of its control of Gaza’s borders with Israel, to respect the relevant provisions of international humanitarian law,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told the Security Council in a report on his just-completed visit to Gaza, Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
“The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas, and the indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations, are clear violations of international humanitarian law,” he said. However, even taking into account Israel’s security concern to protect its own civilian population, it is clear that there are major questions to be asked about the failure of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) to protect effectively civilians and humanitarian workers in Gaza.
“Given the scale and nature of the damage and loss of life, there are also obvious concerns about a lack of wider respect for international humanitarian law, particularly the principles of distinction and proportionality. There must be accountability.”...
“Widespread destruction was caused to Gaza’s economic and civil infrastructure,” he said. “I saw for example, an entire industrial and residential area in East Jabalia which had been systematically bulldozed, an area of at least one square kilometre; one of the best schools in Gaza reduced to rubble; and much of the Al Quds hospitῡl in Gaza City burned out.
But he stressed the critical need to look forward to bring urgent relief to Gaza after 18 months of closure, which steadily weakened health, livelihoods and infrastructure even before the recent offensive.
“A massive humanitarian effort is now needed in areas such as food security, nutrition, water and sanitation, shelter, essential repairs of power, roads and other basic infrastructure, rebuilding the health system, rubble removal, unexploded ordnance and psychosocial care. As only one example, 1.3 million Gazans, almost 90 per cenῴ of the population, now need food aid, he said, noting that he would launch a Flash Appeal on 2 February.
Much freer access for goods and staff is needed, Mr. Holmes, who also serves as Emergency Relief Coordinator, declared. While Israel has allowed increased shipments of basic commodities with 120 truckloads getting in on good days, the normal daily requirement is a minimum of 500. Many humanitarian workers continue to be refused regular entry....
“The people of Gaza have continued to exist in what is effectively a giant open-air prison, without normality or dignity. Their lives have been put at risk recklessly by indiscriminate rocket attacks from their midst, which have also killed, injured and traumatized Israeli civilians in Southern Israel. They have now endured a terrῩfying assault, and must live with its devastating aftermath, he concluded.
“This is not sustainable or acceptable. It can only lead to more despair, suffering, death and destruction in the coming years, and perhaps fatally undermine the two-state solution we all seek,” he added, referring to the Roadmap plan for Israel and Palestine to live side by side in peace.
“It must therefore be in the long term interests of all parties, including Israel, to ease conditions for the people of Gaza, by opening the crossings, facilitating the provision of assistance, and allowing them to live, work and hope again.”
Addressing the same Council session before it adjourned for consultations, the head of the UN senior UN refugee official in the region cited the apparent systematic destruction of schools, universities, residential buildings, factories, shops and farms. “Every Gazan projects a sense of having stared death in the face,” UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Commissioner General Karen AbuZayd said.
“There is rage against the attackers for often failing top distinguish between military targets and civilians and there is also resentment against the international community for having allowed first the siege and then the war to go on for so long,” she added, calling for political action to end the occupation and peacefully resolῶe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.