GENEVA: The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday that Israel’s siege of Gaza and its evacuation order for the north of the enclave could amount to a forcible transfer of civilians and be in breach of international law.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the UN human rights office, said Israel seemed to have made no effort to ensure the civilians temporarily evacuated in Gaza were provided with proper accommodation, as well as satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition.
“We are concerned that this order, combined with the imposition of a complete siege of Gaza, may not be considered as lawful temporary evacuation and would therefore amount to a forcible transfer of civilians in breach of international law,” she said.
“Those who managed to comply with the Israeli authorities’ order to evacuate are now trapped in the south of the Gaza Strip, with scant shelter, fast-depleting food supplies, little or no access to clean water, sanitation, medicine and other basic needs.”
The term “forcible transfer” describes the forced relocation of civilian populations and it is a crime against humanity punishable by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In separate comments, the World Food Programme said its food supplies in Gaza were running low but that it was stockpiling supplies in the Egyptian city of Al-Arish nearby.
Abeer Etefa, WFP Regional Communications Lead for the Middle East and North Africa, said they hoped “to cross as soon as the border access is granted.”
“We call for unimpeded access, safe passage to desperately needed humanitarian supplies to Gaza,” she said.
Trucks carrying supplies headed toward the Rafah crossing in Egypt, the only access point to the enclave outside of Israel’s control, though it was not certain whether they would be able to cross.
In addition to dwindling food and water supplies, Gaza’s health sector finds itself at a “breaking point,” said UN Special Rapporteur Tlaleng Mofokeng.
“Gaza’s medical infrastructure has been irreparably damaged and health care providers are working in a dire situation with limited access to medical supplies and conditions that do not allow them to provide timely and quality health care,” said Mofokeng, who focuses on the right to health.
Fuel reserves at all hospitals across Gaza are expected to last for an additional 24 hours only, according to the UN Palestinian agency UNRWA.
“The shutdown of backup generators would place the lives of thousands of patients at serious risk,” it said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday it needs urgent access to Gaza to deliver aid and medical supplies, as the UN agency warned of a long-term humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave.
Dr. Richard Brennan, regional emergency director of the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional office, said the agency was meeting with “decision-makers” on Tuesday to open access to Gaza as soon as possible.
“We have aid south of Rafah and are waiting for the go ahead to get entry to Gaza,” he said, referring to the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which was a vital artery before the fighting and is now a key route for desperately needed supplies into Gaza.
WHO said its supplies had been ready to go for three days, but teams had been unable to deliver it.
“Even if you think this madness and horror stop and we think about recovery, this will be a long-term humanitarian exercise,” said Dr. Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative for the West Bank and Gaza.
PALESTINIANS REPORT HEAVY SHELLING IN SOUTHERN GAZA
Palestinians in Gaza reported intense bombardments early Tuesday near the southern towns of Khan Younis and Rafah, where Israel ordered civilians to seek refuge.
Israeli bombs hit areas west and southeast of Khan Younis and west of Rafah, according to local reports. Thousands of people trying to escape Gaza are gathered in Rafah, which contains the territory’s only border crossing to Egypt, as international mediators press for a deal to allow aid in and refugees with foreign passports out.
Details of casualties were not immediately available.