Red Cross chief arrives in Gaza, says suffering 'intolerable'

AFP , Monday 4 Dec 2023

The Red Cross president arrived in war-torn Gaza on Monday, calling for the protection of civilians in the Palestinian territory, where she warned that human suffering was "intolerable".

A Palestinian man, wounded during Israeli bombardment, is stretchered into Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 4. AFP

The International Committee of the Red Cross said ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric's travel to the region would happen in several stages with "a visit to Israel expected over the coming weeks".

"I have arrived in Gaza, where people's suffering is intolerable," Spoljaric said on X, formerly Twitter.

"It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible," she added in an ICRC statement.

Spoljaric, whose organisation has faced criticism from both sides in the conflict for not providing adequate help to Israeli captives held by Hamas and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, insisted that "all those deprived of liberty must be treated humanely".

"The captives must be released, and the ICRC must be allowed to safely visit them," she said.

Her visit comes after full-scale fighting resumed Friday following the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar, the United States and Egypt, during which Israel and Hamas exchanged scores of hostages and prisoners.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in retaliation for the Islamist militant group's October 7 offensive that killed about 1,200 people, and saw 240 captives taken, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel's military said Sunday it had carried out around 10,000 air strikes since the war started.

The Palestinian health ministry says more than 15,899 people have been killed in Gaza, about 70 percent of them women and children, a death toll that has sparked global alarm and mass demonstrations.

"The last week provided a small degree of humanitarian respite, a positive glimpse of humanity that raised hopes around the world that a path to reduced suffering could now be found," Spoljaric said in the statement.

"As a neutral actor, the ICRC stands ready to support further humanitarian agreements that reduce suffering and heartbreak."

She said the purpose of her visit was "to advance efforts that alleviate the desperate humanitarian situation".

"I will convey my deep concern for the plight of civilians and underline the ICRC's utmost commitment to doing everything we can to ease their suffering," she added.

The ICRC said that during her visit to Gaza, Spoljaric would also spend time with the organisation's team on the ground and "visit the European Hospital, where ICRC medical teams have been conducting life-saving surgery alongside local healthcare workers".

"We have urgently appealed for civilian life to be protected and respected on all sides, in line with international humanitarian law, and I reiterate that appeal today," Spoljaric said, insisting that "an unimpeded and regular flow of aid must be allowed to enter Gaza".

* This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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