Gaza mass casualties 'on a new scale', says ICRC head

Robert Mardini commends UAE for placing conflict on Cop28 agenda for the first time

Children wounded in Israeli air strikes arrive at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. Getty Images
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Gaza is witnessing mass casualties on a scale not previously seen, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross has said, as he reiterated the need for civilians to be protected.

Robert Mardini, director general of the ICRC, warned the collapse of a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas will lead to more civilian deaths in the coming weeks.

"We have never seen such level of mass casualties in hospitals - hospitals that are at a breaking point, where doctors and nurses are working around the clock with very little means and who are close to break down," Mr Mardini told The National at Cop28 in Dubai.

Families separated, people living in terrible conditions with temperatures now going down
Robert Mardini, director general, International Committee of the Red Cross

"The water supply is not working anymore. People are struggling to survive with little food, little water. And the resumption of fighting recently has brought back the nightmare for civilians that are now living in fear, living in anxiety," Mr Mardini said, laying out the scale of the tragedy in Gaza.

At least 700 civilians have been killed in the past 24 hours after a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas ended.

Israel struck refugee camps in Jabalia and Khan Younis, once again uprooting displaced people.

With winter on the horizon, civilians with merely the clothes on their back are particularly susceptible to cold and disease - and the need to get aid across the border is even more crucial.

"Families separated, people living in terrible conditions with now temperatures going down."

International Committee of the Red Cross praise the UAE for highlighting Peace

International Committee of the Red Cross praise the UAE for highlighting Peace

Mr Mardini stressed that the warring parties in any conflict have "first and foremost the obligation to respect the rules to protect civilians - to do everything in their power, feasible precautions to protect civilians".

"This can come across as a broken record from ICRC. But this is important because the onus remains on the parties to the conflict. They are also responsible of ensuring minimum level of humanitarian supplies and facilitating at least the work of humanitarian organisations."

Mr Mardini also stressed that his organisation was eager to facilitate health checks for Israelis held by Hamas and support hostage swaps.

"We have been very clear in calling for access to hostages to check on their health, to ensure that they can exchange messages with their families, and we have been calling also for the release of civilian hostages because this is what needs to happen," he said.

Mr Mardini was participating in Cop28 as the issue of peace and recovery was added to the Cop agenda for the first time under the UAE Presidency.

He commended the UAE for dedicating the fourth day of Cop28 as Relief, Recovery and Peace Day, at a time of heightened conflict in the region and around the world.

The countries affected by war are so often afflicted by climate-related disasters, Mr Mardini said.

Before the war in Gaza, the ICRC had a host of programmes supporting the resilience of farms and water utilities which have been "repeatedly disrupted by cycles of violence".

"I have to recognise the leadership of the UAE for shining a spotlight officially in the Cop agenda," he said.

"It's the first time ever the plight of people affected by the combined effects of armed conflict and climate [has been on the agenda]. And this is important because it will accelerate hopefully, that climate action will be strengthened for precisely those communities who are today left behind."

Updated: December 03, 2023, 3:06 PM