‘We need a ceasefire and we need it now’: senior WHO official Dr Mike Ryan calls for Gaza peace

Number of children who have no surviving family is growing all the time, Irish executive director of organisation says

The number of children who have been left as orphans following the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) is growing, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Its executive director Mike Ryan told Morning Ireland that the “terrible acronym” wounded children no surviving family (WCNSF) is a “common element” in Gaza now where 14,000 people have been killed since the October 7th attacks.

“This is a tragedy for children on what is International Children’s Day,” he said. WHO staff have evacuated 31 sick babies from the Al-Shifa Hospital which has been targeted by the Israelis in recent days.

Two hundred and fifty patients remain in place though the hospital is barely functioning. Many were wounded in the Israeli bombardment.


“The facility has been essentially put beyond use as a medical facility and the patients are getting the barest of care,” he said.

The al-Shifa hospital is by far the most sophisticated in Gaza and district hospitals in the south of the Gaza Strip cannot be expected to carry out the same level of services, he warned.

There is a growing health issue beyond the dead and the wounded of Gaza with 1.7 million people displaced out of 2.2 million. Just 10 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are working.

A growing number of children have respiratory tract infections. Recent rains have increased the possibility of a diarrhoea outbreak. Children are dehydrated and also malnourished, he told the programme.

Dr Ryan said the WHO asked for proper humanitarian relief at the end of October but all that has been allowed into the Gaza Strip has been a “trickle”. People have been denied food, water, sanitation and healthcare. “We will keep calling. We need a ceasefire and we need it now,” he said.

“The access to humanitarian supplies is dependent on a ceasefire, the safety of children is dependent on a ceasefire.

“The changes of a negotiated settlement hinge on a ceasefire. We call for the immediate release of all the hostages. Many of those hostages have medical needs.”

Speaking on the same programme, the former President of Ireland Mary Robinson said it is clear there is no military solution that will bring Israel peace.

She and a group of experienced former politicians known as The Elders have reiterated their calls for a ceasefire in an open letter to US president Joe Biden.

It states: “US credibility and interests across the world are at stake. Israeli policies of expanding illegal settlements in the West Bank, and normalising relations with Arab countries while bypassing the Palestinians, have not made Israelis safe.

“Successive US governments have been complicit in these failures. The only way to make Israelis and Palestinians safe is a lasting political solution. It must guarantee the security of Israel, whose people remain under threat.

“And it must meet Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for their own state. Long denied during 56 years of occupation, these hopes are fading fast, as innocent Palestinians die in the rubble of Gaza and the stolen lands of the West Bank.”

Mrs Robinson told Morning Ireland that the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu had blocked any prospect of a two state solution by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank.

He had emboldened Hamas so as to divide it from the Fatah party which runs the West Bank.

There was a need for a “new Coalition for peace” to deliver the two state solution, she said.

Speaking at a press conference at the Israeli embassy in London, the father of a nine-year-old Irish-Israeli child who was taken hostage during the Hamas assault on Israel has said he will believe a deal to release hostages is in place “when I see it”.

Thomas Hand initially thought his daughter Emily, who had been attending a sleepover at a friend’s house, had been killed on October 7th, but was later told she had been kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

Mr Hand said he was living through a “nightmare” and getting Emily back was his “reason for living”.

Mr Hand, who cried as he spoke of his missing daughter, said: “I pray I get Emily back.

“I don’t know what condition she’s going to be in, but she’s going to be very broken mentally and physically and we’ll have to fix that. It’s going to take a long time to fix that.

“That’s what we’ve got to do and we will do it no matter how long it takes. That’s my prime focus, my reason for living and getting up in the morning every day.”

He added that he was horrified by the thought of “the sheer terror of a nine-year-old girl down in those dark tunnels never seeing the light of day”.

“She must be saying every day: ‘Where’s my daddy, why didn’t he come to save me?’”

Mr Hand, who was wearing a T-shirt with a “Bring them home now” message on it, said that the taking of hostages was “pure terrorism, pure evil”.

Mr Hand, originally from Dún Laoghaire, said getting “proof of life” was the “most crucial thing that will keep them [hostages] alive for us now”.

He said: “Hamas in their psychological warfare tactics are not allowing the Red Cross to get any proof of life”, adding that this was “carrying on our pain and torment”.

Meanwhile, the Qatari Prime Minister has told Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that children will be a priority in any release of hostages being held by Hamas.

The Qataris, who are mediating talks on hostage releases, also indicated to Mr Varadkar that they are aware of the case of Emily Hand.

The Taoiseach spoke on Monday with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, the Qatari Prime Minister, regarding the case.

Following the call, the Taoiseach’s spokesman said Mr Al Thani is aware of the case and “said that children will be a priority in any negotiated release”.

“When the Taoiseach met Emily Hand’s family and the Israeli Ambassador to Ireland last week, he pledged that he would use all channels of communication to pursue Emily’s release.

“Last week he spoke to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, having previously raised her case with the Palestinian Prime Minister, the Egyptian Foreign Minister and Prince Rashid of Jordan.” – Additional reporting: PA

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times