Humanitarian agencies sceptical about pauses in Gaza hostilities

Proposal for four-hour ceasefires is ‘cynical and cruel’, says UN special rapporteur on Palestine

The announcement by the White House that Israel has agreed to four-hour tactical, local pauses in bombing and ground fighting has been met with scepticism by leading humanitarian agency figures. If approved by Israel’s war cabinet, the Israeli military would announce when and where pauses would take place while hostilities would continue elsewhere. The pauses are designed to allow aid to enter and civilians to flee the main battleground in the north of the strip to the south, although the south is also being bombed.

UN special rapporteur on Palestine Francesca Albanese said there has been continuous bombing of this “tiny piece of land where people are trapped, and the destruction is massive”. She added: “Four hours ceasefire ... to let people breathe and to remember what is the sound of life without bombing, before bombing again. It’s all very cynical and cruel.”

World Health Organisation spokeswoman Margaret Harris told the BBC on Friday: “We want a full cessation of hostilities and unimpeded and safe access for all health workers.” She said that while need increases every day, 50 per cent of the hospitals and the majority of clinics have shut down due to lack of medicine, water and fuel for generators. Ms Harris said Gaza is facing “a man-made earthquake”.

The head of the Palestine mission for Médecins Sans Frontiers (MSF) Ann Taylor said 2.3 million people living on a “postage stamp” of territory want a permanent ceasefire agreed by all parties. Speaking on the phone from Jerusalem, she said conditions are difficult for the MSF’s 300 staff.


“There are so many displaced ... staff cannot move, civilians are being targeted, ambulances are not protected.” Ms Taylor said the lives of patients in intensive care are at risk.

She said a MSF medical technician was “killed at home with his family, who are under the rubble”.

She said staff members have “buried their families and cannot get food”.

After 20 years with MSF, Ms Harris regards events in Gaza as the “most extraordinary” ... [The situation] challenges every rule [adopted] since World War two. Mechanisms [to tackle crises] are not working.” She said: “The whole world is watching. It’s a reality TV show. A humanitarian disaster. It’s got to stop.”

The four-hour pause was proposed after US president Joe Biden asked Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for a three-day ceasefire. Commenting on Mr Biden’s request, International Rescue Committee head David Miliband told CNN the situation in Gaza is a “major humanitarian catastrophe”. He called for a “ceasefire of five days at a minimum with the sole aim to save lives. Civilian protection is not being delivered”.

Mr Miliband said agencies must deliver a massive flow of aid rather than a trickle, as is happening now. He said more aid workers have to be recruited. He said 90 have been killed.

He called for people to be allowed to receive treatment outside Gaza with the guarantee they will be able to return.

Mr Miliband also said the issue of the 140 Israeli hostages must be properly addressed.

While the Gaza health ministry has reported that about 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, United States assistant secretary of state Barbara Leaf said in testimony to Congress that the US has information that fatalities “could be even higher than are being cited. We’ll only know after the guns fall silent.”

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times