Israeli military action in Gaza 'collective punishment', says UN official

Nowhere is safe in enclave after Israeli military orders forced displacement of one million people from the north

Even though the Israeli military has told people to head south, that part of the Gaza Strip is being struck as well. Reuters
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The UN on Monday said that Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip have been subjected to collective punishment and forced displacement from the north of the territory to the south, saying a ceasefire has become a matter of life and death.

One million people, about half the population of Gaza, have been pushed from the north and told to seek safety in the south over the past three weeks as Israel wages war on Hamas in retaliation for the October 7 attacks.

“Gazans feel that they are not treated as other civilians. Most of them feel trapped in a war they have nothing to do with. They feel the world is equating all of them to Hamas,” said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN's agency for Palestinian refugees.

“The current siege imposed on Gaza is collective punishment.”

More than 8,000 Palestinians have now been killed in Israeli attacks, who Mr Lazzarini said included 64 UNRWA staff.

Even though the Israeli military has told people to head south, that part of the Gaza Strip is being struck as well.

“I have said many times, and I will say it again; no place is safe in Gaza,” Mr Lazzarini said.

Dangerous and unrealistic evacuation orders had to end, Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s ambassador to the UN said, describing them as “cruel and reckless, and so is our delay as a security council".

“The drums of war are beating. Taking these warnings seriously begins with stopping this war in Gaza. We do not serve Israel’s security by enabling it to go on," she said.

"We cannot reverse the heinous October 7 attacks by condoning this war in which civilians are paying the price. Ignoring what could happen day after day, will have devastating consequences, not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for the prospects of peace and stability in our region."

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US UN ambassador said she supported humanitarian pauses to allow hostages to get out, to allow foreign citizens to leave, and to allow safe passage for civilians.

Mr Lazzarini said a communications blackout at the weekend had accelerated the breaking down of civil order which “will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible” for UNRWA to keep operating in the north.

He warned that hunger and despair are turning into anger against the international community, and in Gaza, “the international community is better known as UNRWA”.

“An entire population is being dehumanised,” Mr Lazzarini said.

More than 670,000 displaced people are now in overcrowded UNRWA schools and buildings, he said.

“The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the unprecedented humanitarian needs,” Mr Lazzarini added.

According to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, 33 lorries carrying water, food and medical supplies entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Sunday.

The US is leading negotiations with Israel, Egypt and the UN to try to create a sustained delivery mechanism for aid to Gaza.

The White House said on Monday that it is “confident” of increasing the number of aid lorries getting into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt to about 100 a day.

“This first phase that we talked to the Israelis about is trying to get it up to about 100 a day,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. “We're confident that we can get there in coming days.”

Speaking on behalf of UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, who is currently in Israel, Lisa Doughten told Security Council members that deliveries through the Rafah crossing from Egypt are “a drop in the ocean compared to the vast scale of needs”.

“More than one entry point into Gaza is indispensable if we are to make a difference – Kerem Shalom, between Israel and Gaza, is the only crossing equipped to rapidly process a sufficiently large number of lorries,” she said.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield warned no amount of aid will matter if it cannot reach people in need.

“The amount of humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza must be scaled up – urgently. We must do everything possible to save lives,” she said.

Israel intensifies attack on Gaza – in pictures

Updated: October 31, 2023, 11:56 AM