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Press briefing notes Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Gaza: ‘Nothing short of a catastrophe’

26 January 2024

Palestinians fleeing Khan Younis, due to the Israeli ground operation, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, move towards Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, January 25, 2024 © REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa


Head of the UN Human Rights Office for the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Ajith Sunghay



Civilians continue to face the brunt of the escalation in Gaza. The situation is nothing short of a catastrophe.

Last Saturday, I was in Khan Younis, where I met with people who were frustrated, angry and understandably wary. And yet they spoke to me, explaining their situation, treating me with warmth and respect in the middle of a brutal, unconscionable situation, explaining how they fled their homes to seek shelter in overcrowded, makeshift camps.

How children have not gone to school in months – and their schools have been destroyed, as have their universities, destroying their hopes for the future. The personal cost to each individual, each family, in addition to the killings of loved ones. Family separation, violence against women, documents destroyed, homes and communities uprooted, health deteriorating.

In Rafah, I saw displaced people who had been ordered by Israeli authorities to leave their homes, with no provision for their accommodation, literally living on the street, with sewage running in the streets and conditions of desperation conducive to a complete breakdown in order.

And even in the midst of it all, human rights and humanitarian NGOs, our counterparts in Gaza, continue their courageous work, trying to make sure human rights violations are properly documented and humanitarian response continues – even as their own lives fall apart.

Over the past few days, these warm, heroic, long-suffering people I met have been caught in the midst of ever intensifying violence, from Israeli airstrikes and street-to-street fighting between Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian armed groups. There have been near continuous attacks, including on medical facilities and schools in Khan Younis, UN facilities, as well as residential areas.

The people I spoke to fear the extreme violence is spilling into Rafah – which will have catastrophic implications for the more than 1.3 million people already crowded there.

Shelling by the IDF continues in areas that it has unilaterally designated as “safe” areas, including Al Mawasi in western Khan Younis.

Even after explosions were reported in Al Mawasi on 22 and 23 January, the IDF continued to order residents of western Khan Younis to move there. The order, which was issued repeatedly on 23, 24 and 25 January, reportedly affects more than half a million people as well as three hospitals which have been under heavy attacks and siege – An Nassr Hospital, Al Amal Hospital and Jordanian Field Hospital. I have very grave concerns that these chaotic and mass evacuation orders are ineffective in ensuring the safety of Palestinian civilians, instead placing them in increasingly vulnerable, dangerous, situations.

Attacks on hospitals, schools, and other places of refuge have repeatedly displaced Palestinians into ever smaller areas, with ever decreasing access to the essentials needed to sustain life. Such a failure violates Israel’s obligations under international law.

Having personally witnessed and heard the testimonies of those who have endured so much pain and suffering, I am very, very worried. I fear that many more civilians will die. The continued attacks on specially protected facilities, such as hospitals, will kill civilians, and there will be a further, massive impact on access to health care, safety and security in general of Palestinians.

We are also very worried about the impact of the rainy, cold weather in Gaza, which was entirely predictable at this time of the year and risks making an already unsanitary situation completely uninhabitable for the people. Most have no warm clothes or blankets. Northern Gaza, where IDF bombardment continues, is barely accessible even to provide basic humanitarian aid.

The apparent disregard for international law needs to end. The violence needs to end. Humanitarian aid needs to be delivered without impediment to all those who need it. We urge a ceasefire, immediately, we urge the release of hostages, and we urge a political solution to the causes of this conflict that respects and ensures the rights of all Palestinians and Israelis.

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Ravina Shamdasani - + 41 22 917 9169 / [email protected]
Jeremy Laurence +41 22 917 9383 / [email protected]

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