Palestinians resort to the sea water to bathe and clean their tools and clothes due the continuing water shortage in the Gaza Strip, on the beach of Deir al-Balah, Central Gaza Strip, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)
The head of the United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinian refugees said Monday that a cease-fire in Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza “has become a matter of life and death for millions.”
The agency head Philippe Lazzarini said Israel was inflicting “collective punishment” on Palestinians and driving the forced displacement of civilians.
The U.N. has been among the loudest supporters of a cease-fire in the conflict, citing the need to stop civilian deaths and ensure a path for humanitarian aid into Gaza. The General Assembly passed a resolution backing a cease-fire 120-14 on Saturday, with 45 states abstaining. The U.S. was among 14 countries that voted against the measure.
Lazzarini warned that civil order may break down in Gaza due to a lack of food, water and medical supplies. He noted a U.N. warehouse was raided over the weekend by Palestinians desperate for food and water.
He also said 64 of the agency’s staff had been killed in the conflict, including its head of security, who was killed along with his entire family in an Israeli strike two hours before Monday’s U.N. meeting.
The conflict began early this month after Hamas killed more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, in a surprise attack on Oct. 7. The group also took about 200 people hostage.
Responding Israeli air strikes and a ground invasion have since killed at least 8,500 Palestinians, including more than 3,500 children, according to Gaza health officials.
The Biden administration has cast doubt on figures from Hamas-run government agencies, while the U.N. has largely accepted the figures.
The U.S. has backed Israel in the war, pledging billions in additional aid for the country. But the Biden administration reportedly warned the Israeli military against a large ground invasion of northern Gaza, citing civilian casualty risks.
Israel intensified its ground incursion overnight Friday.
“To ease epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer, and facilitate the release of hostages, I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire,” Guterres said in a U.N. speech last week.
Guterres also said that he was “deeply concerned” about the “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in the conflict.
(c) 2023 The Hill