The UN aid chief has said he was “deeply alarmed” by Israeli ministers’ statements about “plans to encourage the mass transfer” of Palestinian civilians from Gaza to third countries and he repeated calls for a ceasefire.
“Unless we act, it will become an indelible mark on our humanity,” Martin Griffiths, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told the UN Security Council. “I reiterate my call for this council to take urgent action to bring this war to an end.”
Mr Griffiths painted a dire picture of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza as Israel continues the offensive it launched following Hamas’ 7 October attack on southern Israel that saw 1,200 Israelis killed.
Quoting Gaza’s health ministry, he said that more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 58,000 injured since Israel launched the offensive in which it vows to destroy Hamas.
The “horrific” situation created by the “relentless” Israeli operation can be seen in the displacement of 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians “forced to flee again and again as the bombs and missiles rain down,” Mr Griffiths continued.
“We are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Israeli ministers regarding plans to encourage the mass transfer of civilians from Gaza to third countries, currently referred to as ‘voluntary relocation,'” he said.
Such statements, Mr Griffiths said, raise concerns “about the possible forced transfer or deportation of the Palestinian population from the Gaza Strip” in violation of international law.
The statements by far right-wing Israeli cabinet ministers also have prompted the US, Israel’s closest ally, to raise similar concerns.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her British counterpart, Barbara Woodward, repeated those concerns during the meeting.
“These statements, along with statements by Israeli officials calling for the mistreatment of Palestinian detainees or the destruction of Gaza, are irresponsible, inflammatory, and only make it harder to secure a lasting peace,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.
Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, deny they have plans to forcibly move the Palestinian population from Gaza.
Ilze Brands Kehris, UN assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the high civilian casualty toll, massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and displacement of civilians “raise very serious concerns about the potential commission of war crimes.”
She warned that the risk of further grave violations, even atrocity crimes, is real. Israel denies committing war crimes.
The council met only hours after Israel rejected as false and “grossly distorted” accusations brought by South Africa in the UN International Criminal Court that its offensive is a state-led genocide campaign against Palestinians.
UN humanitarian office accuses of blocking aid to northern Gaza
It also follows Israel’s latest attacks on Gaza that killed at least 151 people, including 11 in a single house, Palestinian health officials have said, while the UN humanitarian office accused Israel of blocking its efforts to send aid to the north.
Residents reported continued aerial and ground fire across the territory from Israel, which has come under growing pressure to limit the number of civilian casualties from its war against the Hamas militants who attacked southern Israel on 7 October.
The Israeli government claims it goes to great lengths to protect civilians, accusing Hamas of deliberately using them as human shields and diverting aid, allegations which the militants deny.
Gaza health officials said the 11 people had been killed by a single air strike around dawn in a house in Deir Al-Balah belonging to the Fayad family, a prominent name in the city.
Israel said it could not comment without more specifics. It said earlier that its forces had killed dozens of militants in nearby Maghazi and in the southern city of Khan Younis.
The armed wings of Hamas and fellow Islamists Islamic Jihad each said their fighters had hit Israeli tanks and bulldozers with anti-tank rockets in several areas where Israel was operating.
Palestinian medics said another Palestinian had been killed and several others wounded in an Israeli strike that targeted a group of people on a main road between the central and the southern areas of Gaza.
Since the New Year, Israel has announced a new phase in the war, saying it will begin withdrawing its forces from the northern half of Gaza where they deployed three weeks after the militants rampaged through southern Israel.
Sporadic fighting has continued in the north and intensified in southern areas, where Israel extended its ground campaign to wipe out the militants last month and where the vast majority of Gazans have sought shelter on Israeli advice.
The UN humanitarian office said Israeli authorities were blocking its efforts to help people who had stayed in the north for fear the militants would seize supplies.
“We have systematic refusal from the Israeli side of our effort to get there,” said Andrea De Domenico, Head of Office for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
“In particular, they have been very systematic to not allowing us to support hospitals, which is something that is reaching a level of inhumanity that, for me, is beyond comprehension,” he said.
Israel says it does not block aid and blames holdups on what it says are poor logistics by the UN and other aid agencies. Aid officials say Gazans are on the verge of starvation and suffering from diseases brought on by a lack of fresh water and sanitation due to widespread bombing.
As Israeli tanks redeploy in some areas, residents reveal the aftermath. In Al-Bureij – focus of Israeli ground operations in central Gaza – images posted by a local journalist showed the destruction of the main stadium.
Health officials said earlier that an overnight Israeli airstrike in the Sabra suburb of Gaza City in the north had killed three people and wounded dozens. Civil emergency said intense Israeli fire had hampered efforts to reach them.
Gaza health officials have said that Israel’s offensive had killed 23,708 people and wounded more than 60,000, mostly civilians.
“Many victims are still under the rubble and on the roads. Rescue teams and civil emergency crews are unable to reach them,” Gaza health ministry spokesman, Ashraf Al-Qidra said, adding that the 151 reported dead were those brought to hospital.
Israel says it has no choice but to end Hamas rule in Gaza after the militants, who are sworn to Israel’s destruction, killed 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took 240 hostages back to the territory.
At Gaza’s European hospital in Khan Younis, members of the Shaat family and others gathered to mourn the death of their loved ones who were killed in an Israeli strike further south in the narrow coastal strip.
“The day before yesterday we were targeted by a rocket, so we were displaced near the sea. They went back (home) to take the rest of the stuff that we needed for the house,” said Samir Shaat, a relative of some of the victims.
“A first rocket targeted my brother and son. My nephews came to help them, but a second rocket hit them,” he said.