UN chief calls for immediate aid access to Gaza amid 'absolutely desperate' situation

Israel has approved reopening of Erez crossing into northern Gaza and temporary use of Ashdod port

A displaced Palestinian child holds up an empty pot as she waits to receive food aid in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza. EPA
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that he hoped Israel would quickly allow aid access to the Gaza Strip, as the situation in the enclave is “absolutely desperate”.

“It's not enough to have scattered measures – we need a paradigm shift,” Mr Guterres told reporters in New York.

Israel approved on Thursday the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port after US President Joe Biden demanded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take steps to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, saying conditions could be placed on Washington's support if he did not act.

The move came after an Israeli strike on a convoy killed seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen.

Mr Guterres said that about 196 humanitarian aid workers, including more than 175 UN staff, have been killed in six months of war in Gaza, “and we want to know why each one of them was killed”.

The Israeli military acknowledged on Friday that it had made a series of mistakes and breached its own protocols resulting in the deaths of the seven humanitarian workers, saying it had mistakenly believed it was “targeting armed Hamas operatives”.

Mr Guterres said that he also was "deeply troubled by reports that the Israeli military's bombing campaign includes Artificial Intelligence as a tool in the identification of targets, particularly in densely populated residential areas, resulting in a high level of civilian casualties."

"No part of life and death decisions which impact entire families should be delegated to the cold calculation of algorithms," he said.

Riyad Mansour, Palestine's UN envoy, said the killing of aid workers was “not an isolated incident” and Israel was fully aware of its targets when it struck three vehicles across three different locations, all of which were clearly marked.

Riyad Mansour optimistic about Palestine becoming full member of UN – video

Riyad Mansour optimistic about Palestine becoming full member of UN

Riyad Mansour optimistic about Palestine becoming full member of UN

“No one should arm or shield those committing atrocities,” he stressed. “No one no country should arm or shield those committing atrocities. They must be held accountable, or these crimes will continue.”

Israel's UN envoy Gilad Erdan assured the council that his country would make “every effort to ensure that such a tragedy is not repeated”.

The UN and international aid groups have accused Israel of blocking assistance, but Israel has defended its efforts and blamed shortages on groups' inability to distribute it.

He added that the reason aid is not reaching Gazans is because “Hamas loot it and the UN is incapable of handling the capacity of supplies being brought in”.

Mr Erdan argued that Israel is in the midst of a “defensive” war fought in unprecedented conditions against “an enemy that fights from underground tunnels and hospitals and deliberately uses civilians as human shields”.

Humanitarian aid in Gaza is needed more than ever as, after months of “systemic and deliberate” denial of humanitarian access, children are now dying from malnutrition and dehydration, Janti Soeripto, head of Save the Children, told the Security Council.

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“Denied food and water by an illegal blockade, they've been starved to death,” she said.

“If we continue down this path of all parties to conflict flagrantly breaching the rules of war and international humanitarian law, zero accountability, powerful nations refusing to use the levers of influence at their disposal, then the next set of mass deaths of children in Gaza will not be from bullets and bombs – it will be from starvation and malnutrition.

“This indecision and inaction is a choice and choices have consequences.”

Slovenia's UN ambassador Samuel Zbogar pointed out that starvation was “being used as a weapon of war.”

“ Nothing in this war happens by chance. The conduct of this war is a choice. Disrespect of international humanitarian law is a choice. And the consequences of this war with unprecedented deaths and destruction and children too weak to cry cannot be but a choice.”

“Waiting for a famine declaration will not change anything on the ground, unfortunately. But we know what will: an immediate ceasefire.”

Updated: April 05, 2024, 11:28 PM