The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Open Briefing
This afternoon (10 November), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) called for the meeting to discuss the deteriorating situation in Gaza, citing the “spiraling health crisis amidst continued attacks on hospitals”. Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Director General of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) Marwan Jilani are the expected briefers.
This will be the seventh time that Council members have convened to discuss the crisis in Israel and Gaza since the 7 October large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza. Since the attacks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, and on 27 October, Israeli forces began their ground operation in northern Gaza.
Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that as at 9 November, more than 10,800 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza and approximately 2,650 people have been “reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble”. Over 1.5 million people in Gaza are estimated to be internally displaced. According to OCHA, as at 9 November, the Israeli authorities released the names of 1,162 fatalities in Israel, while over 230 hostages are reported to have been taken into the Gaza Strip during the 7 October attacks.
On 9 October, the Israeli authorities ordered “a full siege” of the Gaza Strip, stopping the provision of power, food, gas, and water. Only a small fraction of the humanitarian aid needed has been allowed into Gaza via the Rafah crossing, which connects Gaza with Egypt, and the entry of fuel remains banned by the Israeli authorities. (Since the start of the crisis, Israel has not allowed fuel into Gaza, reportedly saying that “it could aid the Hamas war effort”.)
At today’s meeting, Tedros and Jilani are expected to provide an update on the health situation in Gaza, focusing on attacks on health workers and facilities and on the need for the safe delivery of key medical supplies. According to a 6 November WHO update, a “public health catastrophe is rapidly evolving in Gaza”, as 70 percent of primary care facilities are not functioning and critical outages and shortages of essential medications and supplies have been reported. In a 9 November statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that its surgeons in Gaza “now lack anaesthesia and even gauze to treat burn victims”.
Between 7 October and 6 November, the WHO “documented 235 attacks on health care in the occupied Palestinian territory”, of which 108 were in the Gaza Strip and 127 in the West Bank, with 16 health care workers killed in Gaza while on duty. According to a 2 November media briefing, the WHO verified 19 attacks on health care in Israel. In a 4 November statement, the WHO condemned several attacks on hospitals in Gaza and emphasised the “urgent need to protect all health workers, patients, health transport, and health facilities”. Today, Tedros is likely to echo this message and may reference recent attacks, such as that on the Al Naser Children’s Hospital in Gaza City, which “was hit during an airstrike” on 9 November, “reportedly killing three people and injuring dozens more”, according to OCHA.
Overnight on 10 November, the BBC reported several accounts of explosions and the presence of Israeli forces near hospitals in northern Gaza, noting that Israel has said that it is targeting “Hamas’s labyrinth of tunnels built underneath the Gaza Strip–some of which, according to the Israel Defense Forces, sit beneath hospitals”. In a 10 November statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said that “[a]ny use by Palestinian armed groups of civilians and civilian objects to shield themselves from attack is in contravention of the laws of war. But such conduct by Palestinian armed groups does not absolve Israel of its obligation to ensure that civilians are spared”. Today, Tedros might convey a similar message. He may also reiterate the WHO’s 14 October statement, which condemned “Israel’s repeated orders for the evacuation of 22 hospitals” in northern Gaza and said that forcing over 2,000 patients to relocate south “could be tantamount to a death sentence”.
Tedros might also warn of the growing risk of the spread of infectious and waterborne diseases as a result of the disruption of health, water, and sanitation systems and may call for urgent, scaled-up access of humanitarian aid into and throughout the Gaza Strip. In an 8 November joint statement, the WHO and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) stressed the need for fuel to reach humanitarian agencies in Gaza. The joint statement stressed that “[w]ithout fuel, hospitals and other essential facilities such as desalination plants and bakeries cannot operate, and more people will most certainly die as a result”, a warning Tedros may repeat this afternoon. On 9 November, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that Al Quds hospital in Gaza City had to shut down key services on the previous day due to the lack of fuel. On 10 November, the PRCS warned that the hospital may soon completely cease operations because of fuel depletion.
At today’s meeting, Council members are expected to express concern about the dire situation of health care in Gaza and condemn all attacks against medical personnel and facilities. Members are likely to call for sustained and unhindered humanitarian assistance to civilians and some may stress the importance of the delivery of key provisions such as water, medicine, and fuel. Some members may refer to recent initiatives, such as the 9 November International Humanitarian Conference for the Civilian Population in Gaza organised by France in Paris or the UAE’s 7 November announcement that it will establish a field hospital in Gaza. More generally, members are expected to underscore the importance of respecting international humanitarian law and protecting civilians. Members are also likely to call for the immediate and unconditional release of the abducted persons held in Gaza and reiterate their condemnations of the 7 October Hamas-led attacks.
Tedros and Jilani are likely to stress the need for a humanitarian ceasefire, a measure that the UN, as well as humanitarian and human rights organisations have also called for. Although several Council members are likely to call for this measure and/or call for humanitarian pauses, members’ positions differ on this issue and divisions regarding whether the Council should call for measures such as a ceasefire, a truce, or humanitarian pauses are the main reason why—over a month since the start of the escalation—the Security Council has been unable to agree on a product to address the crisis. (For background, see our 29 October and 6 November What’s in Blue stories.) During today’s meeting, several Council members may stress the importance of the Council speaking with one voice on the escalation. At the time of writing, consultations on a potential product were continuing among Council members. (In October, the Council voted on four draft resolutions on the crisis, all of which failed to be adopted. For background, see our 16 and 25 October What’s in Blue stories.)