GAZA CITY – UN health agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed Egypt’s decision on Wednesday to accept dozens of the most critically sick and injured from the stricken Gaza Strip for treatment. Meanwhile, the UN relief chief has said a “step change” is needed in what has now become “a global crisis.”
“We have been working with Egypt’s Health Ministry on planning for medical evacuations and will continue to support,” said the World Health Organization (WHO) head.
WHO said that 81 people had been allowed to cross into Egypt for treatment.
His comments came amid reports that the Rafah passenger terminal between Egypt and Gaza had been allowed to open on an exceptional basis Wednesday morning for the first time since 7 October, to allow the departure from the enclave of some wounded Palestinians as well as foreigners and dual nationals.
The Rafah crossing is the only entry point not controlled by Israel, which imposed a blockade on the enclave in 2007 after Hamas militants seized control of the Gaza Strip.
‘Far greater needs’
Tedros warned on social platform X that “attention must not be diverted from the far greater needs of thousands of patients in Gaza” and reiterated calls for the protection of hospitals as well as an “immediate acceleration” in the flow of medical aid into the Strip.
Tuesday saw the entry into Gaza of the largest convoy since delivery of aid via Rafah resumed on 21 October, composed of 59 trucks carrying water, food and medicines, according to the UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA).
However, the entry of fuel, “desperately needed to operate life-saving equipment”, remains banned, OCHA said.
In a statement just released via X, WHO said those in serious need within Gaza include thousands of seriously injured civilians (many of them children); more than 1,000 people who need kidney dialysis to stay alive; more than 2,000 needing cancer therapy; 45,000 people with cardiovascular diseases; and more than 60,000 people with diabetes.
“These patients must be able to have sustained access to health care inside Gaza. Hospitals and other health facilities must be protected from bombardment and military use.”
The agency said before 7 October 2023, around 100 patients each day needed to access specialized health care services outside the Gaza Strip because of the lack of needed, specialized health services inside Gaza.
“WHO calls for urgent, accelerated access for humanitarian aid, including fuel, water, food and medical supplies”.
UN chief António Guterres stressed on Tuesday that the volume of aid entering was not commensurate with the sheer number of civilians trapped in the enclave amidst the intensifying fighting.
Shelters ‘four times over capacity’
More than 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced with over 689,000 sheltering in 150 facilities of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
OCHA said that in recent days, tens of thousands of displaced people, who were previously staying with host families, have relocated into public shelters, seeking food and basic services.
The UNRWA shelters are now nearly four times over their intended capacity, OCHA warned.
Lazzarini in Gaza
Commissioner General for UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, was given access to Gaza on Wednesday where he met with Palestinian communities and UNRWA colleagues who continue to serve hundreds of thousands of civilians as best they can.
He is the most senior official to be allowed in since the Israeli bombardment began.
“He said he was there to show his appreciation for UNRWA staff in Gaza, adding that UNRWA has lost 70 colleagues to date“, said the UN Spokesperson briefing correspondents in New York.
UNRWA tweeted that a further 22 staffers had been injured during the aerial bombing campaign adding “this is the highest number of UN aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time.”
Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric also reported that around “500 foreign passport holders were allowed out” adding that access in and out of the enclave had allowed the UN to rotate some UN staff, who have been working non-stop since the crisis began.
Possible Israeli war crimes: OHCHR
In a tweet on Wednesday afternoon the UN human rights office OHCHR, noted that given the high number of civilian deaths and injuries in Gaza “and the scale of the destruction following Israeli airstrikes on Jabalia refugee camp (on Tuesday), we have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes.”
According to news reports at least six airstrikes hit the refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City and the Hamas-controlled health ministry reported that 50 people – mostly women and children – had been killed by the Israeli strikes, with at least 150 injured.
Israel said it had targeted a Hamas militant commander in the strike.
Condition of hostages unknown
Earlier in the day, WHO chief Tedros said in a social media post that the agency continues to be gravely concerned about the condition of the 240 hostages taken from Israel by Hamas on 7 October – “particularly the children, women, older people and those with health conditions who need immediate medical attention”. He reiterated calls for their immediate release.
‘Horrific toll’ on journalists
OCHA noted that the Israeli ground operation in northern Gaza and the outskirts of Gaza city has been gaining in intensity, alongside continuing bombardments.
Israeli airstrikes were reported on Tuesday on the densely populated Jabaliya neighbourhood north of Gaza City on Tuesday, which hosts the enclave’s largest refugee camp, home to some 116,000 people.
Addressing the issue of threats to journalists worldwide, UN chief António Guterres wrote on social platform X on Wednesday that the conflict in the Middle East is taking a “horrific toll” on them and called for better safeguards to “defend the journalists who are keeping us informed”.
UN human rights office OHCHR expressed concern on Tuesday about reports of Palestinian journalists killed under Israeli bombardment and reiterated that journalists are civilians and should not be targeted, while military personnel targeting them, must be held to account.
‘This is a global crisis’: UN relief chief
The war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza has created a “global crisis” which demands international action before it spreads “far beyond the region” said the UN emergency relief coordinator in a statement on Wednesday.
“This cannot go on. We need a step change”, added Martin Griffiths.
We need the hostages to be released immediately and unconditionally. We need to be able to provide the essentials for survival – particularly water, food, medicine and fuel – safely, immediately and at scale. The more than 200 trucks which have crossed into Gaza so far following painstaking negotiations offer some relief but are nowhere near enough.”
He said pauses must be agreed as the “only viable option to get relief items into Gaza right now.”
Israel, Hamas and other militants need to “respect their obligations under international humanitarian law, including by taking constant care in the conduct of military operations to spare civilians and civilian objects.”
Those international players with influence must use their diplomatic muscle to ensure respect for the rules of war to protect civilian life and “deescalate the conflict and avoid a spillover.”