The statement came as the Israeli-imposed deadline for some 1.1 million civilians to leave the northern part of the enclave, ahead of what is expected to be a major advance into Gaza by Israeli ground forces, expired.
“UNRWA shelters in Gaza and northern Gaza are no longer safe. This is unprecedented,” said the statement.
The agency reminded that according to the rules of warfare, civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics and United Nations premises cannot be a target.
“UNRWA is sparing no efforts to advocate with parties to the conflicts to meet their obligations under international law to protect civilians, including those seeking refuge in UNRWA shelters,” the agency emphasized.
UNRWA pointed out that many of the vulnerable, particularly pregnant women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities simply will be unable to flee south.
“They have no choice and must be protected at all times.”
More than 1,300 people were killed in Israel after Hamas fighters raided settlements close to Gaza last Saturday. In response, more than 2,200 have been killed during Israel’s aerial offensive on Gaza, according to Palestinian authorities.
On Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it would be “impossible” for civilians in Gaza to comply with the evacuation order without devastating humanitarian consequences.
The UN chief called on the world to unite in support of the fundamental principle of protecting civilians, and “finding a lasting solution to this unending cycle of death and destruction.”
WHO airlifts vital health supplies for Gaza
A plane carrying life-saving health supplies from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) logistics hub in Dubai landed in Egypt on Saturday to aid civilians in Gaza – as soon as access across the border into the enclave can be established.
The shipment includes trauma medicines, healthcare essentials, and equipment sufficient to treat around 1,200 who have suffered injuries during the bombing raids and around 1,500 chronically ill patients.
The cargo also includes basic health supplies to meet the needs of 300,000 others, including pregnant women.
With hospitals in Gaza either completely out of action, or simply overwhelmed, the supplies will help save the lives of the wounded wherever they can find shelter, WHO said.
WHO said it was critical for the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border to be reopened. “While the Egyptian side of the crossing is accessible, the Israeli side remains closed”, said the statement.
“Every hour these supplies remain on the Egyptian side of the border, more girls and boys, women, and men, especially those vulnerable or disabled, will die while supplies that can save them are less than 20 kilometres (12 miles) away.”
WHO said it would be working with the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent Societies to ship the supplies across the border in Gaza, as soon as practicable.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Monday who endorsed the request to facilitate medical aid across the border into Gaza.
UN independent expert warns of ‘mass ethnic cleansing’
An independent UN-appointed human rights expert warned on Saturday that Gaza’s civilian population was now in grave danger of “mass ethnic cleansing” on the international community to urgently mediate a ceasefire.
“The situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel has reached fever pitch,” said Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
She called on the UN and Member States to intensify efforts to mediate an immediate ceasefire between the parties, before “a point of no return” is reached.
The UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert reminded the international community of its responsibility to prevent and protect populations from atrocity crimes.
‘Both deserve to live in peace’
“Time is of the essence. Palestinians and Israelis both deserve to live in peace, equality of rights, dignity and freedom,” Ms. Albanese said. “Any continued military operations by Israel have gone well beyond the limits of international law. The international community must stop these egregious violations of international law now, before tragic history is repeated.”
Special Rapporteurs and other independent experts work on a voluntary basis, they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.