What's In Blue

Posted Mon 1 Jul 2024

The Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations with Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator (SHRC) for Gaza Sigrid Kaag

Tomorrow morning (2 July), the Security Council will hold an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Senior Humanitarian and Reconstruction Coordinator (SHRC) for Gaza Sigrid Kaag is expected to brief.

The SHRC function for Gaza was created by Security Council resolution 2720 in the context of the war between Israel and Hamas. The resolution, which was adopted on 22 December 2023, requested that the Secretary-General appoint a SHRC responsible for “facilitating, coordinating, monitoring, and verifying in Gaza, as appropriate, the humanitarian nature of all humanitarian relief consignments” that are provided to Gaza through states which are not parties to the conflict. Resolution 2720 requested the SHRC, who began her assignment on 8 January, to provide an initial report on her work to the Security Council within 20 days and thereafter every 90 days until 30 September. Tomorrow will be Kaag’s fourth briefing to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 2720. Previously, she briefed on 30 January, 7 March, and 24 April. (For background on the war in Gaza see the brief on “The Middle East, including the Palestinian question” in our July 2024 Monthly Forecast.)

Resolution 2720 demanded that the conflict parties “allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”. However, aid at scale is still not reaching Palestinians in Gaza, with a 25 June Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report finding that a high risk of famine persists in the Gaza Strip.

Tomorrow, Council members are expected to seek an update from Kaag about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip with a particular focus on humanitarian access and humanitarian aid deliveries. According to a 21 June post on X (formerly Twitter) by Philippe Lazzarini, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), restrictions have included Israeli forces’ military operations and Palestinian armed groups’ activities; the limited number of open crossing points into Gaza; the lack of security for humanitarian workers and installations “despite deconfliction and coordination” with the conflict parties; the near total breakdown of law and order leading to regular looting, as well as threats and assaults against truck drivers; and regular denials and delays by the Israeli forces for coordinated movement and convoys. Additional reasons include fuel shortages and the lack of permission from Israel to bring necessary equipment for staff security, such as armoured vehicles. Tomorrow, members might be interested in Kaag’s suggestions on how to overcome these constraints.

Resolution 2720 also requested the SHRC to establish a UN mechanism for accelerating humanitarian consignments to the Gaza Strip through states which are not party to the conflict. Tomorrow, Kaag is expected to provide an update regarding the establishment and functioning of the 2720 mechanism.

The mechanism comprises several components including an integrated database for agencies sending humanitarian aid to register incoming consignments, verification of the humanitarian nature of the cargo, facilitation of clearance from the relevant authorities, and monitoring of cargo flow. A 12 June update from the Office of the SHRC said that the 2720 mechanism “is now fully operational via routes through the Cyprus and Jordan corridors” and that its operationalisation for aid deliveries through Egypt would happen “soon”. The update also notes that the “Egypt land corridor, particularly via the Rafah crossing, is vital given the volume it can handle”, a point that Kaag had already emphasised during her 24 April briefing to the Council.

Tomorrow, Council members might be interested in hearing from Kaag how recent events have affected aid deliveries from the Cyprus and Egypt corridors. The Rafah crossing which connects Egypt with Gaza has remained closed since the start of Israel’s offensive in Rafah on 7 May, while the volume of aid coming through the Kerem Shalom/Kerem Abu Salem—the other entry point for relief consignments coming from the Egyptian corridor—has plummeted.

The Cyprus maritime corridor, which was intended to provide aid in addition to, and not as a substitute for, land routes, has also faced several challenges. In a 9 June interview, Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) Cindy McCain said that the WFP would pause distributing aid delivered to Gaza through the US-built floating dock which receives aid cleared in Cyprus. McCain said that this was out of concern for staff safety following the incidents of the previous day, an apparent refence to Israel’s 8 June operation in the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza—that led to the rescue of four Israeli hostages but resulted in a high number of Palestinian casualties—and to missiles hitting two WFP warehouses. The suspension of WFP operations at the floating dock is expected to last “until a thorough UN assessment of the security situation is conducted”, according to an 11 June statement by Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Farhan Haq.

A recent Associated Press article noted that the WFP suspension “came after the Israeli military used an area near the pier to fly out hostages” during the operation in Nuseirat, prompting a UN review over both safety and neutrality concerns. According to the article, the US on 28 June removed the floating dock to protect it from adverse weather and was considering “not re-installing it unless the aid begins flowing out into the population again”. Speaking to the press today (1 July), Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric said that, while the security review is still ongoing, the WFP recently hired a contractor to move aid that had accumulated near the dock to WFP warehouses out of concern that the aid might otherwise go to waste.

Tomorrow, Council members are expected to express grave concern about the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and may call for humanitarian aid at scale to reach Palestinians in Gaza. As in previous meetings, there are likely to be differences of tone in members’ demands on particular issues. For instance, while the US and the UK might call on Israel to improve deconfliction, other members might use a stronger tone. At the 24 April Council meeting, Malta condemned “the staggering number of humanitarian and United Nations staff killed so far by Israel” during the conflict, while stressing the importance of “transparent investigations, leading to accountability”.

Several Council members, including the US, may restate their support for Kaag’s work and urge the conflict parties to cooperate with the SHRC in order to guarantee the full implementation of her mandate. Other members might observe that the mechanism has yet to make a substantive difference for Palestinians in Gaza. At the 24 April meeting, Algeria said that over four months after the adoption of resolution 2720 and “despite Ms. Kaag and her team’s efforts” to establish a mechanism for accelerating the provision of humanitarian aid in Gaza, “that call remains unanswered and the mandate not fully implemented”. Russia questioned several aspects of the mechanism’s operationalisation, adding that “it would appear that the mechanism will become yet another bureaucratic barrier involving additional checks and inspection”.

Many members are likely to stress the need to implement a ceasefire to facilitate the flow of humanitarian aid throughout the Gaza Strip and several might refer to resolution 2735 of 10 June. The resolution, which was authored by the US, welcomed a three-phase ceasefire proposal announced by US President Joe Biden on 31 May. (For background, see our 10 June What’s in Blue story.)

Following the adoption of the resolution, however, the fate of the ceasefire deal has remained uncertain, with Israeli officials sending contradictory messages regarding their support for the deal and Hamas putting forward several amendments.

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