UN chief appeals for Israel to 'avert a humanitarian catastrophe'

AFP , Friday 13 Oct 2023

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed Friday for Israel to "avert a humanitarian catastrophe," after the Israeli army ordered more than one million people to evacuate north Gaza.

Antonio Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the situation in Israel after an attack by Hamas during a news briefing at United Nations headquarters Monday, Oct. 9, 2023. AP


"The Secretary-General and his team have been working the phones. He's been in constant contact with Israeli authorities, urging them to avert a humanitarian catastrophe," spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.

Israel gave the order days after Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked the country on Saturday, triggering a bloody conflict.

On Thursday, the UN said it had been told by Israel that Palestinians would have 24 hours to evacuate.

Later, the Israeli army admitted that such a massive shift would "take time," however.

"I can only tell you what we've been told," Dujarric said when asked Friday about the timeframe. "It is clear to us that the clock is ticking."

He later called for the order "to be rescinded, avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation."

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) announced the transfer of its operations to the south of Gaza, but he said some staff had asked to stay in the north.

"We are not pushing people to move. People have to make their own their own decisions," he said.

There are "13,000 UNRWA staff members in Gaza, frontline workers, teachers, doctors, nurses, people offering psychosocial services. They are staying with the people they are tasked to support," he said.

With growing calls to allow international aid into Gaza, he said the UN chief's focus was on ensuring that support reaches Palestinian civilians.

"It's been six days since anything has come in," Dujarric said of Gaza.

"My UNRWA colleague I just got off the phone with just said they hadn't been able to get a drop of water in there in six days. We're literally at the bottom of the barrel."

He said the UN was working with the Israelis and with Egypt to get aid in and create "areas of safety" for civilians.

"People should be able to be safe in their own in their own homes," Dujarric said.

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