The World Health Organization (WHO) is proposing the opening of a “humanitarian corridor” in Gaza that would allow aid workers to evacuate wounded civilians and supply life-saving medicine. The proposal comes more than two weeks into a conflict between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian political group, that has killed more than 800 Palestinians and 35 Israelis and prompted calls from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and a host of world leaders for a cease fire.
“People are dying at an alarming rate, being injured at a very alarming rate,” said Jens Laerke of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), according to Reuters. “We are calling for these localized ceasefires whereby the wounded can be evacuated and we can access people with both healthcare and other kinds of relief.”
Since Israel launched missiles at Gaza on July 8, 25 healthcare facilities have been damaged, including al Aqsa Hospital, central Gaza’s main medical facility, which came under direct fire on Monday. Nearly 600 people suffered injuries on Thursday alone, including 150 people seeking shelter at a U.N. school. The displacement of 140,000 people into hospitals has taken its toll on newborn infants, many of whom succumb in facilities with less than 20 incubators, an unstable power infrastructure, and broken equipment. Nearly 1.2 million people also have little or no access to water.
Although WHO officials said that a shipment of medical supplies is expected to arrive from Amman, the capital city of Jordan, continuous bombardment by Israeli forces and the closure of smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt threaten the possibility of resources making it to hospitals. The current situation is straining the health care infrastructure even more than the conflict in the region has in the past.
“[In 2012] we were sending critical patients day by day to Egyptian hospitals, aid was coming from Arab and other solidarity groups, foreign doctors were coming to help us, fuel was available. [Now] all that has gone,” Dr. Ayman al-Sahbani, a physician at al Shifa Hospital, also in central Gaza, told Al Jazeera on Friday.
According to the United Nations, the violence that has taken place against bystanders, women and children in recent weeks violate international humanitarian laws, which designate schools and hospitals as protected civilian objects.
A cease-fire proposal currently in the works could potentially bring both sides on one accord, bridge the gap in medical care for injured Palestinians, and curtail violence that experts say will likely spread beyond the West Bank. The proposal — which materialized from the combined efforts of Kerry, the U.N, Egyption negotiators, Turkey, and Qatar — would quell violence for seven days but still allows for the destruction of tunnels. As of now, neither Israel or Hamas has commented on WHO’s proposal. But a number of Israel’s detractors are growing increasingly angry that civilians, particularly women and children, are not receiving adequate medical treatment. Some world leaders, including Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, want the United Nations to act quickly against the bombardment of hospitals and schools.
“The Office of Secretary General has a critical role to play in the maintenance of international peace and prevention of state aggression and war,” said Khan in his letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on Friday. “The massacre of innocent women, children, and elderly by the state of Israel cannot simply be ignored by the UN and by yourself as its Secretary General.”
War has always posed an imminent threat to the lives of civilians and medical professionals, as seen in prior conflicts around the world. In May, physicians for Human Rights reported that deliberate attacks by government forces in Syria killed 30 doctors, the highest monthly toll recorded at the time. Since U.S. troops invaded Iraq in 2003, nearly half of the country’s 32,000 registered doctors have fled the country in response to the targeted killing and kidnapping of medical professionals by armed militias. Earlier this month, a report compiled by Doctors Without Borders found that 58 people, including 25 patients, have been killed during invasions of South Sudanese hospitals since conflict erupted in the African country last December.