Aid groups plead for Gaza safe zones amid growing Israeli threat

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Aid groups plead for Gaza safe zones amid growing Israeli threat

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - A Palestinian police officer holds a baby brought to a hospital following an Israeli strike, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023, as fighting between Israel and the Hamas movement continues for the eighth consecutive day. — AFP pic

JERUSALEM, Oct 14. — International aid groups and major powers have pleaded with Israel to set up safe zones in Gaza where thousands struggled today to get out of the north of the Palestinian territory, under threat of attack.

With thousands of Israeli troops massed around Gaza’s borders, uncertainty over when Israel could launch a ground operation in reprisal for deadly raids by Hamas has added to the turmoil in Gaza.

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“We fear an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” said Ivan Karakashian of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Israel yesterday warned 1.1 million people to evacuate northern Gaza.

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In response thousands continued on Saturday to pack buses, cars and donkey carts and even fled on foot to escape, while others have gathered around a border crossing into Egypt.

The Israeli military has designated two north-south routes in Gaza where it has promised safe passage for six hours a day. But military leaders have not said how long this will last.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said it had been given a “renewed deadline” to evacuate by 4:00 pm today, but that it would continue its work in northern Gaza in keeping with “its humanitarian mandate”.

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Gaza has already taken a battering from air raids and shelling since the Hamas assault on October 7 that killed over 1,300 people.

At least 2,215 people have been killed in Gaza in the past week.

With power cut off, the Medecins du Monde medical aid group expects to gradually lose contact with its teams in Gaza, said Louise Nichet, a senior official in the group’s Middle East department.

Many aid groups have already suspended operations and no supplies can now get through the Israeli siege.

“Our partners are fleeing with their families,” said Karakashian. The Norwegian group employs 53 people in Gaza.

The British group Medical Aid for Palestine said its staff were still working but are “afraid”.

Palestinians queue to refill on water in Rafah refugee camp in the southern of Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023. — AFP pic

Palestinians queue to refill on water in Rafah refugee camp in the southern of Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023. — AFP pic

Hospital Breakdown

The World Health Organisation has said the seven hospitals in Gaza are on the verge of breakdown. “It is impossible to evacuate vulnerable hospital patients without endangering their lives,” said the UN agency.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and several aid agencies have spoken out against Israel’s evacuation order.

The United States and Doctors Without Borders (MSF) called for “secure zones” and the Norwegian council said there should be “humanitarian corridors”.

Egypt and Israel have agreed to let US citizens leave the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing for five hours today, according to a US official travelling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a regional tour.

Officials were unable to say whether the crossing had opened and aid workers said that even if the plan started, roads were so bad that not all those with American passports would be able to get to Rafah.

Aid groups and foreign governments also fear for Gaza’s future after any military operation is ended.

Israel has virtually cut off the 362 square kilometre territory since Hamas took control in 2007. There have been several wars since 2008 and the United Nations estimates that even before this conflict more than two thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.4 million relied on humanitarian aid to survive.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has meanwhile warned both sides while expressing fears for its ability to continue working in Gaza.

Israel’s evacuation order and its cutting of power and water to Gaza was “not compatible with international humanitarian law”.

“Nothing can justify the horrific loss of civilian lives in Israel last weekend... but such tragedy cannot in turn justify the limitless destruction of Gaza,” the Red Cross statement said. — AFP

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