UN told: Gaza on precipice

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike in Gaza on Thursday.

Smoke rises after an Israeli strike in Gaza on Thursday.

Palestinians are “facing a precipice” in Gaza, the top UN refugee official there told the Security Council on Thursday in a strongly-worded appeal for action.

With more than 220,000 Palestinians already sheltering in UN facilities — four times the number from the last Gaza conflict in 2008-2009 — Philippe Krahenbuhl said he had reached breaking point.

“I believe the population is facing a precipice and appeal to the international community to take the steps necessary to address this extreme situation,” the head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA told the 15-member council.

“We have exceeded the tolerable limit that we can accommodate,” Krahenbuhl said, adding that he was “alarmed” by the latest Israeli instructions to civilians to evacuate two areas in Gaza targeted for more attacks.

“It is past time for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire as called for by the council,” he said.
Krahenbuhl spoke to the council by audio link from Gaza after Israel vowed to press on with its military campaign.

In her address to the council, UN humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos called for “more humanitarian pauses” to allow relief workers to reach those in need.

“The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe,” she said.

Krahenbuhl described dire conditions for the shelters with very few showers and latrines, and problems with water supplies in classrooms holding 80 people.

“Disease outbreak is beginning” with cases of skin infections such as scabies while thousands of pregnant women have taken refuge in the UN schools, he said.

“We are sheltering newborn infants in these appalling conditions,” he said, adding: “The illegal blockade of Gaza must be lifted.”

He added: “Israel would be required under international law to take responsibility for helping Palestinian civilians in any further large-scale displacements.”

Meanwhile, a White House spokesman said the shelling of a UN facility in Gaza this week by the Israeli military is “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” and Israel needs to do more to protect innocent civilians

Israel talks frequently about the importance it places on sparing civilian lives but the US believes its government and military are not doing enough to that end, spokesman Josh Earnest said.

“The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” Earnest said.

The European Union also condemned the shelling of the school and crowded Gaza market the previous day, urging an immediate probe into the “unacceptable” deaths of civilians.

“It is unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, have been killed,” the EU’s diplomatic service said in a statement.

The EU was “deeply concerned at the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza” and called on all sides to “immediately allow safe and full humanitarian access for the urgent distribution of assistance.”


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