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UN official: World leaders ‘seem paralysed to intervene’ in human rights breaches in Gaza

10 November 2023

Pregnant women undergoing caesarians with ‘little or no anaesthesia’, one month into war

Alamy

Palestinians wave white flags as they flee Gaza City on Wednesday after further warnings from the IDF of imminent attacks

Palestinians wave white flags as they flee Gaza City on Wednesday after further warnings from the IDF of imminent attacks

PREGNANT women in Gaza are undergoing caesarians with “little or no anaesthesia”, sometimes by the light of a mobile phone, a UN agency reported this week, a month into the Israel-Gaza war.

Among the 2.2 million people in Gaza are 50,000 pregnant women, including 550 due to give birth in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, the regional director for the Arab states at the UN Population Fund, Laila Baker, condemned “unprecedented and unparalleled brutality in the history of humanity in recent times” in Gaza. One woman had said: “Every step when I was trying to find some place to deliver my baby felt like a race against death.”

Ms Baker said: “The world leaders seem paralysed to be able to intervene in one of the most flagrant breaches of human rights and international humanitarian law by besieging and constantly bombarding the Gaza Strip.”

Last week, the House of Bishops called for “immediate humanitarian pauses” to enable the evacuation of the wounded and most vulnerable from Gaza, “holding out hope for a ceasefire in the longer term” (News, 3 November).

Ms Baker, however, dismissed the suggestion. “There is no such thing as a humanitarian pause,” she said. “A pause implies that you can come in, bring your things, but then we are going to bombard, and then we are going to commit and continue to put that pressure on the people of Gaza. That cannot continue. It must stop immediately.”

Tuesday marked one month since the devastating attacks by Hamas on Israel and the beginning of retaliatory air strikes (News, 12 October). On Monday, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health reported that 10,000 people had died in Gaza, including more than 4100 children and 2640 women. On average, 160 children were killed every day.

More than 1400 people were killed in the 7 October attacks in Israel, and more than 200 people taken hostage. On Tuesday, three mothers of Israeli children held hostage spoke in London to appeal for their release. Batsheva Yahalomi described seeing a video of her 12-year-old son being taken away on the back of a motorcycle driven by a gunman.

On Tuesday, the UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said that he would never forget the “horrendous images of civilians being killed and maimed and others being dragged away into captivity”, calling again for their immediate release. On Monday, though, he warned that Gaza was becoming a “graveyard for children”.

On Saturday, a UNRWA school in Jabalia camp, north of Gaza City, was hit by strikes, killing 15 people and injuring 70. “Ground operations by the Israel Defense Force and continued bombardment are hitting civilians, hospitals, refugee camps, mosques, churches, and UN facilities, including shelters,” Mr Guterres told reporters. “No one is safe.”

AlamyFamilies and relatives of Israeli hostages held by Hamas gather for prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Tuesday, marking one month since the deadly Hamas attacks

A dozen UN agencies have reiterated urgent appeals for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow more lifesaving aid into Gaza. The letter states that 2260 people, including 1270 children, are reported missing, most of whom are presumed to be trapped under the mounting rubble. More than one third of the hospitals have been shut down. More UN aid workers — 89 — have been killed than in any comparable period in the organisation’s history.

The UN is calling for “unhindered, safe and secure access” for 500 trucks of aid — the average before the crisis. In total, 650 trucks with humanitarian aid have entered Gaza since 21 October. Mr Guterres has warned that “a trickle of assistance does not meet the ocean of need.” People are waiting for four to six hours, on average, to receive half of a normal bread portion.

Mr Guterres said this week that Hamas and other militants “use civilians as human shields, and continue to launch rockets indiscriminately towards Israel”. On Tuesday, an IDF spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said that its forces had attacked more than 14,000 “terrorist targets” in the past month, destroying more than 100 “terrorist tunnel shafts” and more than 4000 weapons, many of which were inside mosques, kindergartens, and residential buildings. The Israeli Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant, described Gaza as “the biggest terror stronghold that mankind has ever built. This whole city is one big terror base.”

The IDF continues to urge Gazans to evacuate to the south. Rear Adm. Hagari said this week that 1.5 million fliers had been dropped, and more than 20,000 phone calls had been made. Hamas “tries to prevent Gazans from moving south”, he told a press conference on Sunday.

On Thursday of last week, the Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran told the BBC that she had extended family members sheltering in a church complex in Gaza, some of them very frail. They were “frozen in fear . . . it is dangerous to move.”

The UK Government has to date not supported calls for a ceasefire. Last Friday, the Prime Minister wrote to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, describing plans for a demonstration by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign on Armistice Day as “provocative and disrespectful”, with a “clear and present risk that the Cenotaph and other war memorials could be desecrated, something that would be an affront to the British public and the values we stand for”.

He wrote: “You will have mine and the Government’s full support in making robust use of all of your powers to protect Remembrance activity.”

On Tuesday, Sir Mark said of Armistice and Remembrance events that he was “determined we will do everything in our power to ensure they pass without disruption”. But, he added, “There is no absolute power to ban protest, therefore there will be a protest this weekend. . . The intelligence surrounding the potential for serious disorder this weekend does not meet the threshold to apply for a ban. . .

“The organisers have shown complete willingness to stay away from the Cenotaph and Whitehall and have no intention of disrupting the nation’s remembrance events.”

Diocese of OxfordThe Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, beside Imam Monawar Hussain at an open-air vigil for peace, held in Oxford on Monday evening. “We must not let conflict in distant lands, however heartbreaking, divide us here,” Dr Croft said

Writing in The Times last Friday, the Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, said that it was “a stain on our common humanity that so many seem to have lost sight of the moral distance between Hamas and Israel”. He wrote: “A minority have proudly displayed their extremism on their banners and in their chants, while the majority stand alongside them.” In recent weeks, footage has been shared online of people removing posters appealing for the release of hostages, in cities including London.

Concerns are growing about the conflict spreading. Caritas Lebanon reported this week that, amid exchanges of fire from Israel and Hezbollah, about 20,000 Lebanese had fled border areas. The charity’s president, Fr Michel Abboud, made an appeal for support in an interview with Vatican News, on Monday. He voiced concerns that the conflict “could set the entire Middle East region on fire and involve Lebanon”.

Read more on the story in comment and in letters to the editor this week

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