Calls for a Gaza ceasefire need to be strengthened

As Israel's military campaign intensifies, the humanitarian situation is only getting worse

Palestinians crossing from northern Gaza to the south, along Salah Al Din road in the central Gaza Strip. EPA
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In the two months since the Israel-Gaza war broke out, the desperation has reached a new peak. Much of Gaza has been flattened and, except for a week's pause in fighting, each day of the relentless Israeli offensive has unleashed new horrors. In addition to claiming thousands of Palestinian lives, Israel's air strikes and ground offensive have damaged or destroyed at least 45 per cent of homes, the UN humanitarian office estimates. By every measure, the crisis cannot be allowed to deepen.

“The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region,” the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday. Notably, he also invoked Article 99, a UN rule that was last used in 1989 for Lebanon, which allows the Secretary General to bring to the Security Council’s attention any matter that “may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The extent of the devastation should press the international community to be more vocal about a full ceasefire, the provision of aid and a return to diplomacy and the two-state solution, which remains the only way to resolve the issue.

On November 24, the world saw a glimpse of a breakthrough, with a temporary halt in fighting that lasted a week, during which time some of the Israeli hostages were exchanged for Palestinian detainees. A longer political solution is still the only way out, and for that all major parties need to speak in one voice and return to the path of diplomacy.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said the UAE has submitted a draft resolution in the Security Council to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, with the support of the Arab Group and the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation. The Palestinian Authority has echoed ceasefire calls.

In the past eight weeks, the Palestinian people have had to battle more than the grief of losing family. The Mayor of Gaza City, Yahya Al Sarraj, has said his municipality has lost 90 per cent of its water resources in the bombing, "along with everything that made people happy".

"We're starved, we're cold. But we have a tent over our head. We wouldn't know where to go if they made us leave once more," Umm Anas Al Serhi, a resident of Al Shati Camp in Northern Gaza, told The National.

There are other voices calling for the atrocities to stop and seeking accountability. These are voices that Israel will listen to, if not heed. The US is beginning to shift its rhetoric on the war and its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has made it clear that the rising death toll is unacceptable.

The EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, meanwhile, has backed Mr Guterres’s calls for a ceasefire and Belgium has banned entry of extremist West Bank settlers involved in violence.

The matter of possible war crimes by Hamas militants and Israeli forces has now come into sharper focus as well. Karim Khan, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, ended his first official visit to Israel and Ramallah saying that such an investigation “is a priority" for his office. His visit gave hope to countless people who have lamented a lack of legal recourse.

“We must show that the law is there, on the front lines, and that it is capable of protecting all,” Mr Khan said.

That will no doubt take time. But the process of ensuring an end to violence and beginning the long road for justice cannot be further delayed.

Published: December 08, 2023, 2:00 AM