Gazans facing ‘never-ending humanitarian nightmare’: UN head

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the situation in Gaza as “a never-ending humanitarian nightmare for civilians” as he once again reiterated calls for an immediate ceasefire.

“Their neighborhoods wiped out. Their loved ones killed. Bombs raining down, while being denied life’s very basics: food, water, medicine, electricity,” Guterres said in a video message.

He also stated that the amount of aid trickling in was “a drop in the ocean” and said the international community must step up to protect civilians, urging nations to invest in a $1.2 billion UN humanitarian appeal.

“We can help civilians in Gaza see at last, and at the very least, a glimmer of hope – a sign of solidarity – and a signal that the world sees their plight and cares enough to act,” he added.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s top relief official, has recently pressed his concerns about any proposal to push thousands into “safe zones”.

He said that the UN could not be “part of a unilateral proposal to push hundreds of thousands of desperate civilians in Gaza into so-called safe zones”. It had not been involved in any preparations for the arrival of displaced people to a prospective “safe zone” in Gaza, Griffiths added.

Griffiths also raised concerns about “safe zone” conditions, stating that “satisfactory conditions do not exist anywhere in Gaza to ensure adequate shelter, food, water, sanitation and health”.

The top United Nations human rights official has also raised doubts over Israel’s unilateral establishment of “safe zones” in the besieged Gaza Strip, cautioning that nowhere within the territory was safe for civilians.

“Demands for civilians to relocate to an Israeli Defence Force designated ‘safe zone’ are also very alarming,” Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said during a news conference in Amman, Jordan, on Friday.

“A so-called ‘safe zone,’ when established unilaterally, can heighten risks to civilians, and raises real questions as to whether security can be guaranteed in practice. At the moment, nowhere in Gaza is safe, as bombardments are being reported in all parts of the Strip.”

Israel on Friday announced another six-hour window for civilians to evacuate south from northern Gaza. US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday announced that Israel would “begin to implement four-hour pauses in areas of northern Gaza each day”, but it was as yet unclear whether that is just a formalization of what the IDF has already been doing, or something new.

In response to the US announcement, the UN spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, stressed any plans for short-term pauses in the fighting in Gaza must be carried out in coordination with the UN and agreed to by all sides in order to be “truly effective”.

Türk stated that he believes that the Israeli occupation is at the root of violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

“The solution to this situation is the end of the occupation, and full respect for the right to self-determination for Palestinians. As I have said time and again, for the violence to end, the occupation needs to end. Member States need to invest all the effort that is necessary into finding a sustainable peace for all Palestinians and Israelis,” he added.

His trip to Amman is part of a five-day visit to the Middle East he started on Tuesday to discuss “Israel’s escalation in Gaza,” his office said in a statement.

Before stopping in Jordan, Türk was in Egypt where he said he visited El-Arish Hospital, one of the hospitals treating seriously wounded Palestinians who were evacuated from Gaza. He talked about seeing many children injured by Israeli bombardment, kids with broken legs and severe burns.

“These were the “lucky” children who suffered terribly but are still alive and receiving proper medical treatment”, he added.

Speaking at the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing earlier this week, Türk said that both Israel and Hamas had committed war crimes over the course of the war.

He talked about his UN colleagues in Gaza who have had to flee with their families to find shelter, stating they always “keep their bags close” in case they need to flee again. He recounted their stories of mourning the killings of dozens of their loved ones over the past month.

“The extensive Israeli bombardment of Gaza, including the use of high impact explosive weapons in densely populated areas, razing tens of thousands of buildings to the ground, is clearly having a devastating humanitarian and human rights impact… Israel must immediately end the use of such methods and means of warfare, and the attacks must be investigated,” he stressed.

Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, has also described Israel’s decision to allow four-hour pauses in fighting as “very cynical and cruel”.

“There has been continuous bombings, 6,000 bombs every week on the Gaza Strip, on this tiny piece of land where people are trapped and the destruction is massive. There won’t be any way back after what Israel is doing to the Gaza Strip,” Albanese told reporters in Adelaide, Australia.

“So four hours ceasefire, yes, to let people breathe and to remember what is the sound of life without bombing before starting bombing them again. It’s very cynical and cruel.”

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