UN humanitarian chief says a million have fled northern Gaza with some attacked on way

Martin Griffiths insists Israel has a right to defend itself but must abide by international law

Large parts of Gaza city have been evacuated as Israel continues bombing the Gaza Strip. EPA
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A million civilians have now fled south in Gaza with some being attacked as they tried to escape, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief has said.

Israel has told residents of the strip to seek places of safety as it steps up attacks on Hamas targets ahead of an expected ground invasion of Gaza.

Martin Griffiths, UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, said about a million people from the north of Gaza had moved south in response to Israel's order to leave.

“They are all over the south trying to find a place of safety,” he told BBC radio.

“We have evidence some who moved have been attacked on their way south. This is against the rules of war. Let them get to safety. Let us help them when they’re there.

“We are in detailed discussions with the Israelis about those issues.”

Mr Griffiths did not expand on who had carried out the attacks.

He earlier wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that “the spectre of death is hanging over Gaza” and “with no water, no power, no food and no medicine, thousands will die. Plain and simple”.

In his interview with the BBC he said the question of support for Israel’s right to defend itself was “really quite simple”.

“Support for Israel, just as support for the Palestinian people, needs to be based on the rules-based order we’ve lived with for so many years, which means no, you do not intervene, as happened on October 7, into the affairs of another state and steal people and keep them.

“No, you do not respond to that terrible event by putting at risk millions of people who have nothing to do with that egregious act in Gaza.

“No, you do not deny humanitarian access to those people who deserve and need it and are legally entitled to it. It’s not a contradiction to be able to hold two thoughts at once.”

Mr Griffiths said “has been no movement … on the release of those hostages” taken captive during the Hamas attack on Israel, which he condemned as an “egregious, illegal, unacceptable, immoral act”.

Scores of lorries laden with humanitarian supplies were poised to cross into Gaza on Monday, after a week of relentless Israeli air strikes that have killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

The movement of the supplies was supposed to be made possible by an agreement negotiated by Egypt, the US and Israel on a ceasefire scheduled for 9am, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied a truce had been put in place, in a statement on X.

Meanwhile, Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said Israel has a “duty to minimise civilian casualties” in any further attacks on Gaza.

Mr Cleverly also disclosed he had had a private conversation with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog who assured him the country “respects and will abide by international law”.

Updated: October 16, 2023, 10:05 AM