Israel agrees to ‘humanitarian pause’ in war-torn Gaza Strip, UN envoy confirms

Palestinian children travel to an UNRWA school to seek shelter after evacuating their homes near the border in Gaza City on July 13, 2014. UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

16 July 2014 – After days of escalating violence and follow-on civilian suffering in the Gaza Strip, the United Nations special envoy for the Middle East confirmed today that Israel has agreed to a five hour humanitarian pause – set to begin tomorrow morning – and repeated his call on Hamas to respect the lull “in the interest of the people of Gaza.”

In a statement issued by his spokesperson in Jerusalem, Robert Serry UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process confirmed that the Government of Israel agreed the five hour humanitarian pause, which will start at tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., local time and end at 3:00 p.m.

“Mr. Serry appreciates this Israeli decision and repeats his call on Hamas and other factions to respect the humanitarian pause from their side, in the interest of the people of Gaza,” said the statement.

It goes on to say that Mr. Serry reiterates the importance of arriving at a durable ceasefire understanding, also addressing underlying issues in Gaza, as soon as possible. “The United Nations, together with other international actors, will continue to support efforts in this regard,” the statement concluded.

This news comes as media reports suggest that Israel previously had agreed to a pause for several hours Tuesday after Egypt put forward a cease-fire proposal that subsequently collapsed.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has flared ago in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in late June and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager from East Jerusalem earlier this month.

And with militants in Gaza stepping up rocket attacks against Israel, and Israeli airstrikes on the enclave intensifying, Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon and a host of other senior UN officials, as well as the members of the Security Council, have repeatedly urged all actors to exercise maximum restraint and avoid further civilian casualties and overall destabilization.

Meanwhile, earlier today, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator reminded both Israelis and Palestinians of their obligations under international law to protect civilians and to distinguish between military and civilian targets, as she warned that innocent men, women and children continue to bear the brunt of the deadly violence that has engulfed the region.

Extremely concerned by the escalation of hostilities and its impact on civilians, Valerie Amos, in a statement issued by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which she heads, said that according to preliminary estimates, as of 15 July, 194 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli attacks, including 149 civilians.

Ms. Amos said that hundreds of homes have been directly targeted by Israeli airstrikes, many of which were allegedly the residences of members of armed groups. More than 1,300 families have been forced to seek shelter with relatives and neighbours. Nearly 80 schools have been damaged because of their proximity to targeted sites. In one incident, an Israeli airstrike killed 18 people in one house, including six children and three women.

Public services have been suspended and the water supply is at risk after two maintenance engineers were killed by an Israeli missile, she added.

“Armed groups are firing rockets from residential areas in Gaza towards populated areas in Israel, reportedly killing one civilian so far and putting at risk the lives of thousands more, both Israeli and Palestinian,” Ms Amos said, and underscored: “Sustained bombardment is terrifying for everyone but particularly for children, who will need psycho-social support long after the violence subsides.”

She went on to remind the parties to conflict that they have responsibilities under international humanitarian law, emphasizing that “they must take precautions to protect civilians and must distinguish between civilian and military targets.”

“This is the third major military confrontation in Gaza in six years, and civilians have borne the brunt each time. They are paying the price for a collective failure to break the cycle of violence and reach a lasting political solution,” declared Ms. Amos.


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