UN chief urges Israel to ‘reconsider’ Gaza evacuation order

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a news conference during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addresses a news conference during the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, August 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

UN Secretary-General António Guterres urges Israel in a New York Times opinion piece on Friday to “reconsider” its warning to civilians in Gaza that they should leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip within 24 hours.

The message, at midnight on Friday, indicated that the IDF could be readying to launch a ground invasion after days of aerial bombardment in response to the massive Hamas onslaught on Saturday, in which 1,300 were killed, a majority of them civilians.

The warning applies to UN staff and those sheltered in UN facilities in those areas.

“The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences,” a UN spokesperson said. “The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.”

Roughly 1.1 million Palestinians live north of Wadi Gaza, according to the UN.

Israel also warned the Al Awda Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate by 6 a.m. Saturday, the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) rights group said in a statement.

In his opinion piece, Guterres writes that the warnings are “dangerous and deeply troubling,” and says that “any demand for a mass evacuation on extremely short notice could have devastating humanitarian consequences.”

The order, he says, applies to “approximately 1.1 million people. It applies to a territory that is already besieged, under aerial bombardment and without fuel, electricity, water and food. It applies to a territory that has suffered critical damage to roads and infrastructure in the past week, making the act of evacuating nearly impossible in the first place. It applies to United Nations staff members and more than 200,000 people sheltering in U.N. facilities, including schools, health centers and clinics. It applies to hundreds of thousands of children: Nearly half of Gaza is under the age of 18.

“As secretary general of the United Nations, I appeal to Israeli authorities to reconsider, he says.

“We have approached a moment of calamitous escalation, and find ourselves at a critical crossroads. It is imperative that all parties — and those with influence over them — do everything possible to avoid fresh violence or spillover of the conflict to the West Bank and the wider region,” Guterres writes in a likely reference to Washington which has given Israel its full support in the aftermath of the Hamas massacre.

Earlier Friday, the White House said the Israeli warning was a “tall order” adding that the United States understands Israel is trying to give civilians “fair warning.”

“We understand what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to move civilians out of harm’s way,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN. “Now it’s a tall order. It’s a million people, and it’s very urban, dense environment. It’s already a combat zone. So I don’t think anybody’s underestimating the challenge here of effecting that evacuation.”

Guterres, in his opinion piece, says: “We urgently need a way out of this disastrous dead end before more lives are lost.”

He says “all hostages in Gaza must be released” and “civilians must not be used as human shields” and that the UN and its partners “need rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access now throughout Gaza.”

“Humanitarian aid including fuel, food and water must be allowed to enter,” he urges.

He condemns the “abhorrent attacks by Hamas and others that terrorized Israel” and says “grievances felt by the Palestinian people do not justify the terror that was unleashed against civilians in Israel.”

He says he’s “horrified to hear the language of genocide entering the public discourse. People are losing sight of each other’s humanity.”

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