November 20, 2023 — No one and nowhere in Gaza is safe. Gaza is now the deadliest war zone in the world for civilians: the fighting has reportedly killed over 11,000 Palestinians in 6 weeks, 40% of whom were children. This is over twice the number of people killed in the same period in Ukraine, Sudan, and Syria together.
The way the conflict is being waged is unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view. Civilians are bearing the brunt. Hamas has reportedly mixed military personnel and facilities with civilians and is holding over 200 hostages. Israel continues to use weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas, is attacking hospitals, schools, and refugee camps and has cut the supply of water, fuel, and electricity to over 2 million people.
While the conflict persists, our staff and partners remain unable to do their vital humanitarian work. The scale of suffering therefore requires a massive and sustained humanitarian assistance effort, and civilians must have protection that is gravely absent. This demands an end to the fighting.
Since October 7th the IRC has been working to assess humanitarian needs, with a focus on getting aid, technical support, and aid workers into Gaza to support partners on the ground. For several weeks, IRC has made clear that any humanitarian ceasefire must be judged by what it could deliver for civilians in need. We articulated clear, minimum conditions that a meaningful humanitarian ceasefire should entail. We stressed the need for full coverage of Gaza, adherence by all parties, and sufficient duration to facilitate the continuous flow and massive scale up of aid. Safety for aid workers and civilians, release of hostages, and restoration of fuel, water, and electricity supplies, are also vital to make a humanitarian ceasefire meaningful.
Last week, the UN Security Council reflected some of these points in its first resolution (UNSC resolution 2712) on the crisis with a clear demand for “urgent and extended humanitarian pauses” to the fighting to ease overwhelming suffering and facilitate desperately needed humanitarian aid. The resolution was a first step toward a humanitarian ceasefire and the provision of assistance to a civilian population that has seen almost no aid, only death and destruction, for well over a month. We implored the parties to the conflict, and all UN member states to do everything in their power to turn the Council’s words into action.
Five days have passed since the UN resolution. Despite hopes of a halt to the fighting, the killing and suffering of Palestinians has increased. International humanitarian law establishes limits to the conduct of war with the explicit aim of preserving civilian life and essential civilian infrastructure. The principles of proportionality, distinction, and precaution are foundational to civilian safety in war time. These require that any military action be proportional to its objectives, that military personnel and infrastructure be separated from civilians, and that parties take every measure to ensure the safety of civilians.
Given the scale of the destruction, and the conduct of the parties, it is not possible to propose limits on the duration of a humanitarian ceasefire. We urge the UN Security Council and all parties with influence in the region to do all in their power to bring about such a ceasefire, without limits on its duration, to protect lives and allow aid to flow. This is the only way to serve the humanitarian imperative.