UN bodies reject plan for ‘safe zones’

Published November 17, 2023
Soldiers of Israel’s Paratroopers Brigade take part in an operation at a location given as Gaza, in this screen grab obtained from a handout video released on Nov 16, 2023. — IDF via Reuters
Soldiers of Israel’s Paratroopers Brigade take part in an operation at a location given as Gaza, in this screen grab obtained from a handout video released on Nov 16, 2023. — IDF via Reuters

GENEVA: The heads of numerous United Nations agencies and other humani­­tarian organisations said on Thursday they would not take part in Gaza “safe zones” declared by only one side in the unrest.

“As humanitarian leaders, our position is clear: We will not participate in the establishment of any ‘safe zone’ in Gaza that is set up without the agreement of all the parties,” they said in a joint statement.

“Under the prevalent conditions, proposals to unilaterally create ‘safe zones’ in Gaza risk creating harm for civilians, including large-scale loss of life, and must be rejected.” Israel has for more than a month been calling on the population in northern Gaza to evacuate south.

Thursday’s statement, signed by nearly a dozen heads of UN agencies — including humanitarian affairs, human rights, migration, refugees, children, and health — highlighted that the “intense hostilities and large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure” had already displaced nearly 1.6 million people in Gaza.

“None of the humanitarian organisations we represent has been invo­lved in preparing for the arrival of displaced people in any prospective ‘safe zone’ — or ‘humanitarian zone’ — in Gaza,” the statement said.

The organisations were all committed to providing assistance and protection, they said, but warned that “without the right conditions, concentrating civilians in such zones in the context of active hostilities can raise the risk of attack and additional harm.”

“No ‘safe zone’ is truly safe when it is declared unilaterally or enforced by the presence of armed forces.”

The signatories said they could not take part in establishing zones “unless fundamental conditions are in place to ensure safety and other essential needs are met”. A mechanism would also need to be in place to supervise the implementation, they said.

“The civilian population in Gaza must have access to the essentials for survival, including food, water, shelter, hygiene, health, assistance, and safety,” they added.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2023

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