Dec. 5 (UPI) — Top United Nations officials are warning Israel against taking actions that would worsen “the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza,” after the Middle Eastern country widened evacuation orders and expanded ground operations in the besieged Palestinian enclave.
The warnings on Monday came separately from U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres amd his head emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths in the wake of a weeklong truce between Hamas and Israel having collapsed on Friday.
Their words also came as the Israeli military over the weekend expanded ground operations and ordered residents near the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis to evacuate the region.
According to a Monday statement from his spokesman Stephane Dujarric, Guterres said that he was “extremely alarmed” by the resumption of fighting and ground operations by the Israeli forces, which he called on to “avoid exacerbating the already catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza and to spare civilians from more suffering.”
“Civilians — including health workers, journalists and U.N. personnel — and civilian infrastructure must be protected at all times,” Dujarric said on behalf of Guterres.
United Nations and other international and humanitarian agencies have been warning about the worsening conditions in Gaza since the war began on Oct. 7 when Hamas launched a surprise and bloody attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people. Another 240 were taken hostage by the Palestinian militant group.
In response, Israeli forces have launched seemingly incessant airstrikes on Gaza and a ground invasion that preceded the evacuation of northern Gazans to the southern half of the enclave.
Some 1.8 million Gazans, representing nearly 80% of the enclave’s entire population, have been internally displaced, according to U.N. estimates, while the Hamas-controlled Palestinian healthy ministry said Monday that the death toll has reached nearly 16,000 with 70% of the victims being women and children.
During a press conference Monday, Dujarric told reporters that the U.N.’s office for humanitarian affairs is warning that “the current situation” prevents its personnel from addressing the needs of the people in Gaza.
While there were “limited aid distributions” in the Rafah governorate in southern Gaza, in nearby Khan Younis, “aid distribution largely stopped due to the intensity of hostilities,” he said.
Other “grave” concerns include the spread of waterborne diseases due to the consumption of unsafe water, especially in northern Gaza where the water desalination plant and pipeline from Israel have been shutdown, Dujarric explained.
“There has been almost no improvement in the access of residents in the north to water for drinking and domestic purposes for weeks,” he said.
“And the World Food Program warns that, eight weeks into the war, there is a big risk of famine for all of Gaza’s people, especially for those with chronic diseases, older persons, children and people living with disabilities.”
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday said that he has been informed by Israeli defense forces that they have 24 hours to remove supplies from their southern Gaza medical warehouse as “ground operations will put it beyond use.”
“We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” he said in a statement.
In the strongest words from a U.N. official on Monday, Griffiths demanded that the fighting stop, describing the situation in Gaza as a “blatant disregard for basic humanity.”
“Every time we think things cannot get any more apocalyptic in Gaza, they do,” he said in a statement.
“People are being ordered to move again, with little to survive on, forced to make one impossible choice after another. NOWHERE IS SAFE IN GAZA,” he continued. “Not hospitals, not shelters, not refugee camps. No one is safe. Not children. Not health workers. Not humanitarians.”