Gaza situation ‘extremely fragile,’ warns UN political chief

Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs (right)

22 January 2008 – The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is extremely fragile, the top United Nations political official told the Security Council today as he strongly urged Israel to allow the “regular and unimpeded” delivery of fuel and other basic necessities to the area.

Stressing the support of UN for the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians living in Gaza, B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, told a meeting on the situation in the Middle East that the crisis in Gaza and southern Israel has escalated dramatically in the past week.

Militants in Gaza had launched daily rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli residential areas, and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) had launched attacks and incursions into Gaza, while Israel has also imposed tight restrictions on crossings into Gaza to try to force an end to the rocket fire.

The result, he said, was that at least 42 Palestinians have been killed – including a number of civilians – and 117 others injured by the IDF operations, while an Ecuadorian national has been killed and 11 Israelis injured in the attacks on the south of that country. Humanitarian conditions in Gaza had also deteriorated sharply.

“Israel must reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants,” Mr. Pascoe added. “Collective penalties… are prohibited under international law.”

Mr. Pascoe acknowledged Israel’s security concerns, condemning unreservedly the “totally unacceptable” rocket and mortar attacks launched by militants in Gaza.

“Such attacks terrorize Israeli communities near Gaza, particularly in the town of Sderot. They also endanger humanitarian workers at crossing points.”

At the same time, he reminded Israel of its obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid endangering civilians in its military actions.

“I would also like to reiterate that the UN’s basic principled opposition to extrajudicial killings is compounded by the frequency with which such operations are carried out in densely populated civilian areas.”

The Under-Secretary-General said the upsurge in violence is undermining the prospects for the Annapolis process that is supposed to lead to a year of hope and opportunity for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Mr. Pascoe’s briefing comes a day after the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said its relief programmes aimed at helping some 860,000 people in Gaza may be halted within days if the closure of the crossings into Gaza continues.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) also expressed concern today about the health situation, noting that a lack of electrical power and restrictions on the movement of people and goods, particularly medicines, was jeopardizing basic health care in Gaza.

In a statement, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said that while it was welcome that the movement of some fuel and supplies had been eased today, additional measures were needed, including the restoration of electricity to health facilities and the end of restrictions on patients having access to health care outside Gaza.

Mr. Pascoe said today that the work of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Gaza “is one of the few things that stand between the current crisis conditions and an even more dramatic deterioration of the situation.”

His briefing was followed by a day-long debate at the Council in which several dozen speakers, including representatives of Israel and the Palestinians, discussed the latest developments in the Middle East.


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