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Gaza: Aid Worker Killings Prompt Temporary Halt To UN Operations After Dark

3 April 2024

UN humanitarians in Gaza have suspended operations at night for at least 48 hours in response to the killing of seven aid workers from the NGO World Central Kitchen on Tuesday.

The move will allow for further evaluation of the security issues that impact both personnel on the ground and the people they are trying to serve, UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Wednesday during the noon briefing for reporters in New York.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) reports that daytime operations are continuing, including ongoing efforts to get food aid convoys into northern Gaza.

‘Chilling effect’

World Central Kitchen and other charities have suspended aid operations which has had a “double impact” in the Gaza Strip, Mr. Dujarric said in response to a reporter’s question.

It has a real impact on people who depend on these organisations to receive aid,” he said.

“Butit also has a psychological and chilling effect on humanitarian workers, both Palestinians and international, who continue to do their utmost to deliver aid to those who need it at great personal risk.”

The World Central Kitchen staff, consisting of local and international personnel, were killed in multiple Israeli airstrikes on their convoy while departing their warehouse in Deir al Balah in central Gaza.

A ‘horrific’ incident: WHO chief

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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said he was horrified by the killing of the seven humanitarian workers, noting that their cars were clearly marked and should never have been attacked.

“This horrific incident highlights the extreme danger under which WHO colleagues and our partners are working – and will continue to work,” said Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva.

WHO has been working with World Central Kitchen to deliver food to health workers and patients in Gaza hospitals.

Tedros underlined the need for safe humanitarian access through establishment of “an effective and transparent mechanism for deconfliction”. He also called for “more entry points, including in northern Gaza, cleared roads, and predictable and expedited passage through checkpoints.”

Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, is working with the Palestine Red Crescent Society to assist in the repatriation of the remains of the international staff from World Central Kitchen.

“According to the Israeli military, an initial investigation found that the strike was a ‘grave mistake’ due to a misidentification,” OCHA said in its latest update, issued on Wednesday.

Israeli authorities said that a new humanitarian command centre will be established to improve the coordination of aid distribution, while a full independent investigation will be completed over the coming days. The findings will be shared with World Central Kitchen and other relevant international organizations.

Al-Shifa Hospital

WHO again requested authorization to travel to the destroyed Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in the wake of the end of the two-week Israeli military siege.

Tedros said teams have been trying to seek permission to access what is left of the hospital, to speak with staff, and to see what can be saved “but at the moment, the situation looks disastrous.”

Al-Shifa was the largest hospital and main referral centre in the Gaza Strip, containing 750 beds, 26 operating rooms, 32 intensive care rooms, a dialysis department and a central laboratory.

Tedros reiterated his call to respect and protect hospitals which “must not be used as battlefields.”

Since the conflict began nearly six months ago, WHO has verified more than 900 attacks on healthcare in Gaza, the West Bank, Israel and Lebanon, resulting in 736 deaths and 1,014 injuries.

Currently, only 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are still able to function even partially.

A WHO team also planned to visit two other hospitals in northern Gaza on Tuesday, but no permission was received.

Expert condemnation

Two experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have joined the growing international condemnation over the wholesale destruction and killing at Al-Shifa Hospital.

Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, and Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, called for the international community to take action.

The extent of the atrocity is still unable to be fully documented due to its scale and gravity – and clearly represents the most horrific assault on Gaza’s hospitals,” they said in a statement.

They said international law prohibits the besieging and destruction of a hospital and the killing of health workers, the sick and wounded, as well as the people protecting.

“Allowing this violence to take place has sent a clear message to the world and the international community that the people of Gaza do not have the right to health and critical determinants of health adequate for their existence.”

The rights experts urged UN Member States use all their powers to stop the horror in Gaza, saying they are appalled by the massacre of civilians by Israeli forces.

“The world is witnessing the first genocide shown in real time to the world by its victims and unfathomably justified by Israel as compliant with the laws of war,” they said.

Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. They are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.

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