Release hostages, allow humanitarian aid in Gaza: UN chief’s appeals to Hamas and Israel

UN chief Antonio Guterres has called on Hamas to immediately release all hostages without conditions and urged Israel to allow rapid and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid for civilians in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, home to about 2.3 million people, is under a total blockade. Israel has cut off all supplies of food, water and fuel in the wake of ongoing hostilities with Palestinian militant group Hamas.

On Monday, Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said it would impose a “complete siege” on the territory.

“In this dramatic moment, as we are on the verge of the abyss in the Middle East, it is my duty as Secretary-General of the United Nations to make two strong humanitarian appeals,” Guterres said here in a statement on Sunday.

The UN Secretary-General appealed to Hamas that it must release all hostages immediately without conditions.

“To Israel, rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid must be granted for humanitarian supplies and workers for the sake of the civilians in Gaza,” Guterres said.

“Each one of these two objectives is valid in themselves. They should not become bargaining chips and they must be implemented because it is the right thing to do,” he said.

The UN chief sounded a dire warning, saying: “Gaza is running out of water, electricity and other essential supplies.” He noted that the United Nations has stocks available of food, water, non-food items, medical supplies and fuel, located in Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and Israel and these goods can be dispatched within hours.

“To ensure delivery, our selfless staff on the ground, along with NGO partners, need to be able to bring these supplies into and throughout Gaza safely, and without impediment to deliver to those in need,” Guterres said.

The United Nations, along with other humanitarian agencies, has been working round the clock to preposition aid since the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas broke out following the militant group’s October 7 assault on several locations inside Israel and Israel’s subsequent declaration of war.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Sunday that heavy Israeli bombardments on Gaza, from the air, sea and land, have continued almost uninterrupted.

Over the past 24 hours, there have been 455 Palestinian fatalities in Gaza and 856 injuries, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Following Israel’s ultimatum on Friday that Palestinians in Gaza should relocate to the strip’s south, OCHA said that by Saturday afternoon, nearly 600,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) were hosted in the central and southern parts of Gaza alone, in increasingly dire conditions.

It added that since then, this figure has risen significantly. About 300,000 people are situated in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s (UNRWA) designated emergency shelters, and the rest in public facilities and with host families.

The OCHA said an almost full evacuation of Sderot city, in southern Israel, was completed on Sunday. Smaller Israeli communities around Gaza have been fully vacated in previous days, while a large proportion of Ashqelon City’s residents have also reportedly left.

The UN agency added that since the start of hostilities, 2,670 Palestinians have been killed and 9,600 have been injured.

The fatality toll in Gaza during the eight days of hostilities has already surpassed the total number of fatalities during the 2014 escalation, which lasted for over seven weeks (2,251 Palestinian fatalities).

According to the Palestinian Civil Defense, the number of missing people, presumably trapped beneath the rubble may exceed 1,000.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza said that as of October 15, 47 families were killed, amounting to about 500 people. PTI

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