Gaza: Rafah invasion would be a disaster ‘beyond imagination’, warn UN medics


UN medics said on Wednesday that they feared a humanitarian disaster “beyond imagination” if a full-scale incursion by the Israeli military happens in Rafah in southern Gaza.

Echoing renewed deep concerns by the UN’s top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, that an assault on Rafah “could lead to a slaughter”, the World Health Organization (WHO) also firmly rejected allegations of years-long collusion with non-health partners either in or underneath Gaza’s hospitals.

‘There is no collusion’

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“We definitely cannot be louder in saying that no, there is no collusion between WHO and any other entities in the health sector, in the health partners, in the (local) Ministry of Health who we are collaborating with,” said Dr. Teresa Zakaria, WHO incident manager for the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT).

"We are not in a position, however, to investigate any other activities taking place in hospitals or what is happening underneath hospitals. I’m sure you can also appreciate that in hospitals, where there are lots of patients, lots of displaced populations, when we focus on delivering services that is really what we are doing, we are not in a position to look beyond that service provision that we need to fulfil,” she added.

Speaking from Gaza, Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, WHO’s OPT representative, insisted that hospitals “should never be militarized” and that “all eyes” are on the hostilities and the feared large-scale offensive in Rafah. “You see the fear people face,” he said. “People constantly come with questions (asking) ‘What can we do?’”

The development comes as hospital facilities are “completely overburdened and under capacitated…and close to the brink of collapse”, Dr. Peeperkorn continued, noting that 1.5 million Gazans are now crammed into makeshift tents and UNRWA shelters “all over the place” in Rafah. 

Overwhelmed, overflowing and undersupplied hospitals

The WHO medic described the few remaining partially functioning hospitals in Rafah as “completely overwhelmed, overflowing and undersupplied”, noting that since November, only 30 per cent of WHO missions to the north were facilitated by the Israeli authorities.

“Since January, the figure is much lower…the mission have been denied or postponed,” Dr. Peeperkorn said, adding that only approximately 45 per cent of mission requests for the south had been facilitated. “That’s absurd, even when there is no ceasefire; humanitarian corridors should exist so that WHO, the UN and partners can do their job,” he said. 

“We need a complete deconfliction system to be able to do our work. The UN, WHO, is ready to carry out more and more missions, to the north, to the centre, to the south.”

More to come…


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