Red Cross president urges humanitarian ceasefire ‘so I can do my job’

Kate Forbes, who leads the largest humanitarian network in the world, reports ‘atrocious’ situation in Rafah, pleads with ‘governments on all sides to negotiate a ceasefire’

Kate Forbes, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt, February 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Kate Forbes, president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt, February 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) called on Wednesday for a ceasefire in Gaza and unimpeded humanitarian access to the war-torn enclave.

Conditions are dire in the Gaza Strip, nearly eight months after war erupted between Israel and the terror group Hamas on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists invaded southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking 252 people hostage.

“We desperately need a political solution that will allow us to have a ceasefire to get aid in,” IFRC president Kate Forbes told Reuters in an interview in the Philippine capital Manila.

“We’re ready to make a difference. We have to have access, and to have access there has to [be] a ceasefire,” she said.

The IFRC president is a volunteer position that oversees a network of 191 organizations working during and after disasters and wars, such as the Palestine Red Crescent Society, which has ambulance crews in Gaza.

Forbes said she saw the “atrocious” situation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah during a visit in February, months before Israel launched a military campaign there. Rafah, believed to be Hamas’s last major stronghold, had been sheltering more than a million Palestinians who had fled there due to fighting in the north.

Palestinians crowd together as they wait for food distribution in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023. (AP Photo/ Hatem Ali, File)

“There was not enough housing. There was no water, there weren’t enough sanitation toilets,” Forbes said. “We had a hospital with no equipment… and unfortunately what I was afraid of has happened, [that] there wasn’t going to be enough food.”

A United States humanitarian envoy said in April that “there is an imminent risk of famine,” and Cindy McCain, director of the World Food Program, declared on May 3 that there was already a “full-blown famine” in the northern part of the Strip, an assessment rejected by the Israeli body responsible for the passage of aid shipments.

Several international bodies, including the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, have alleged that Israel intentionally created the conditions for famine in Gaza as a weapon of war against the civilian population.

Israel strenuously denies this charge, insisting that while trucks must be inspected for security purposes, there is no limit to the amount of food allowed into the enclave. “We plan to flood Gaza with aid,” said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in April, as Israel opened additional crossing points into the Strip.

Officials also distinguish between the quantity of aid allowed into Gaza and the amount that is successfully distributed to the population, citing Hamas involvement and the looting of aid trucks as partly responsible for humanitarian conditions there.

“I plead with the governments on all sides to negotiate a ceasefire so that we can get aid in,” Forbes said, adding, “My job is to ensure that when it happens, we can give the aid that’s necessary. And so they need to do their jobs so I can do my job.”

It is believed that 121 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Israeli officials have expressed a willingness to pause fighting in exchange for a release of hostages and are conducting ongoing negotiations with the terror group, but have rejected calls for a ceasefire without a hostage release.

A weeklong truce was agreed to in November, during which 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity as Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 36,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The toll, which cannot be verified, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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