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“In war we expect the deaths to be men of fighting age. In Gaza they are overwhelmingly women and children” - IDC reports on the humanitarian situation in Gaza

1 March 2024

Since the Hamas terrorist atrocities of 7 October 2023, the International Development Committee has held three urgent evidence hearings in Parliament, and Members of the Committee recently returned from the aid logistics centre and hospital at Al-Arish in North Sinai where some badly injured Palestinian civilians have been evacuated for care. But the vast majority of the population of Gaza, including those working for international aid agencies, have been unable to leave.

Instead the population has followed sequential instructions to move out of areas designated for “clearance” by Israeli military air, sea and ground offensives, under what is described by the WHO as “constant bombardment”. The UN OCHA reports that over 1.7 million Gazans - 75 per cent of the population - have been internally displaced, and very many of those will not have homes to return to once the fighting stops. Well over half of the population are now reported as sheltering in the last designated “safe space” at Rafah, on the border with Egypt. The Committee is urgently publishing this report ahead of the 10 March deadline (the start of Ramadan) that has been set by Israel for the return of its hostages, before it extends its offensive into Rafah.

NGOs and UN organisations have explained how their operations are severely limited by the scale of destruction in Gaza. The deconfliction system is not working and aid workers have been killed and injured in their duties. At the time the Committee visited, it was taking 20-25 days for a truck to travel the 30 miles from the Egyptian Red Crescent warehouse in Al Arish into Gaza. NGOs spoke of almost ‘malicious’ bureaucracy, which saw trucks turned back for carrying just one item potentially perceived as for dual use - although it was not explained what that one item was, nor why it was rejected.

Current border restrictions will make it impossible to avert a famine: described in evidence to the Committee by the World Food Programme as already a real and present risk, with numbers of hunger-related deaths rising. The UK Government must make it an absolute priority to get sufficient amounts of food – “massively” more than at present - into Gaza. This will give certainty to the population there and ease issues such as the security of aid workers and the organised criminal activity growing up around attempted aid deliveries. This means Israel opening up existing crossings, providing a more streamlined entry system and communicating about why goods are being returned.

UNWRA is by far the biggest provider of aid and wider public services in Gaza, as well as its functions in the West Bank, and the Committee urges that that the serious and disturbing allegations against some of its workers are investigated and quickly resolved so that its funding can be restarted and its critical work can resume.  The Committee is clear that unless there is a lasting ceasefire, the unprecedented - in the view of expert evidence from senior and seasoned international humanitarian professionals - catastrophe in Gaza will continue to escalate. Any ceasefire of less than 30 days would not allow enough aid in, nor give time for medical and aid workers to get the required visas.

Those providing aid – professionals who have seen much suffering in war and disasters around the world – have testified there are not words left to describe what is happening to civilians in Gaza. These passionate, normally eloquent people are left speechless and say they feel powerless after what they have witnessed: not least the speed, the intensity and the fact that the situation is so obviously 100 per cent man-made.

Sarah Champion MP, Chair of the International Development Committee, said:

“In war we expect the deaths to be men of fighting age. In Gaza they are overwhelmingly women and children, this raises questions and serious concerns.

“The Committee heard compelling evidence that breaches of international law are taking place, on both sides. We received no reassurance that healthcare workers, medics or facilities are being proactively protected. Not even a fraction of the needed aid is entering Gaza to prevent famine, and there is no way that can even begin to happen in the current conditions.

“Meeting people fleeing Gaza and those who have been working there, the true horror of what is happening is hard to hear. We know maybe ten percent of the story, but let me be clear, there are two million stories of suffering and the UK Government must do all within its power to hold those responsible to account and stop the violence on both sides now.

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