‘Stop the horror,’ says UN children’s agency chief after visit to Gaza

Foreign Ministry accuses UNICEF head of using ‘car accident’ as excuse to cancel subsequent trip to Israel for meeting with hostages’ families; her office says she will return to region

UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell (right) visits Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza on November 14, 2023. (UNICEF/ UNI470988)
UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell (right) visits Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza on November 14, 2023. (UNICEF/ UNI470988)

The head of the UN children’s agency said Wednesday she had witnessed “devastating” scenes on a visit to war-ravaged Gaza and urged Israel and Hamas to “stop this horror.”

“What I saw and heard was devastating,” UNICEF’s executive director Catherine Russell wrote in a tweet linking to a press release on her visit.

“And then you had a ‘car accident’ and you canceled your visit to Israel. Bad faith has no limit,” senior Foreign Ministry official Emmanuel Nahshon responded in a tweet of his own.

The Foreign Ministry said Russell was supposed to visit Israel after her Gaza trip on Tuesday to meet with the families of the hostages held in Gaza but canceled.

A UNICEF spokesperson told The Times of Israel that “Russell was involved in a traffic accident in Egypt on her way to Gaza yesterday, causing the vehicle in which she was riding to flip on its side. In spite of injuries she sustained in the accident, she elected to continue her visit to Gaza.

“Upon completion of the visit, doctors determined that the injuries she sustained require further care. As a result, she has postponed the rest of her visit to the region.

In addition to other meetings in the region, [Russell] had planned a visit to Israel, where among other things, she hoped to meet with families of abducted children. She intends to return to the region, and continue with her visit to Israel, as soon as possible.

In her statement on the trip to Gaza, the UNICEF director said Palestinians there “have endured repeated bombardment, loss and displacement.”

“Inside the Strip, there is nowhere safe for Gaza’s one million children to turn,” Russell said. “The parties to the conflict are committing grave violations against children.

“These include killing, maiming, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access – all of which UNICEF condemns.”

War erupted after Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on Israel on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. Israel then declared war with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell visits Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza on November 14, 2023. (UNICEF/UNI470988)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 11,240 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, in figures that cannot be independently verified, do not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives, and include those killed in hundreds of failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Russell pointed out that more than 4,600 of those reported killed were children, while nearly 9,000 have reportedly been injured.

“Many children are missing and believed buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings and homes, the tragic result of the use of explosive weapons in populated areas,” she said. “Meanwhile, newborn babies who require specialized care have died in one of Gaza’s hospitals as power and medical supplies run out, and violence continues with indiscriminate effect.”

Russell reiterated her call “on all parties to ensure that children are protected and assisted, as per international humanitarian law.”

“Only the parties to the conflict can truly stop this horror.”

Russell called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” and for the two sides “to safely release all abducted and detained children.”

She also demanded that they “ensure that humanitarian actors have safe, sustained and unimpeded access to reach those in need with the full range of lifesaving services and supplies.”

Russell said she had visited the Al-Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, where she met with patients and displaced families seeking shelter and safety.

“A 16-year-old girl told me from her hospital bed that her neighborhood had been bombed. She survived but doctors say she will never be able to walk again,” she said.

Russell said she had also met with UNICEF staff who were “continuing to deliver for children amidst the danger and devastation.”

She said the organization was striving to continue to deliver aid, “but diesel fuel has practically run out, causing some hospitals and health centers to stop functioning.”

“Without fuel, desalination plants cannot produce drinking water and humanitarian supplies cannot be distributed.”

On Wednesday, Israel allowed for the entry of a supply of fuel into Gaza for the first time since the outbreak of the war.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA confirmed receiving 23,027 liters (6,083 gallons) of fuel, saying it met only “nine percent” of what the agency needs daily, and pointing out that it was designated only to fuel trucks carrying aid.

Israel had to date resisted allowing in fuel, saying it will be diverted by Hamas and arguing that humanitarian gestures should also be limited as long as Hamas refuses to release the roughly 240 hostages in Gaza.

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