File picture of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, in Geneva, Switzerland, 06 April 2023. EFE/EPA/MARTIAL TREZZINI

WHO on lack of security for health workers in Gaza: “This is unconscionable”

Geneva, Nov. 2 (EFE) – The head of the World Health Organization’s emergency health program, Mike Ryan, expressed anger on Thursday over the lack of humanitarian access and security guarantees for health workers in Gaza, saying that the level of obstruction of these activities is unprecedented.

“I have operated in many different crises in my time, and we have never found it as difficult to establish the basic rules of engagement that would allow us to act in a proper humanitarian fashion with minimum guarantees of safety,” Ryan said at a press conference.

Ryan added that there is no “deconfliction,” meaning the process of negotiating with armed actors to reduce the risk of humanitarian organizations being inadvertently attacked, and there is no “humanitarian access.”

“How are we going to bring in field hospitals with further international workers if we can’t even guarantee the basic safety of the staff we have on the ground now? This is unconscionable, this is unthinkable,” Ryan said.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s director-general, said at the same press conference that they have “verified 237 attacks on health care, including 218 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and 19 in Israel.”

Gebreyesus added that “attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law.”

Obligation to protect

Ryan also said that Israel has an obligation to protect Gaza’s health care system in the current conflict, and that this includes Al Shifa Hospital, the main hospital in the entire Palestinian territory, which Israeli authorities say is being used by Hamas as a military base.

He added that “the rules are clear on this, health care must be protected,” and that “we know what’s going on above ground,” but “we have no information about what’s going on elsewhere or underneath these facilities.”

The executive director emphasized that the use of health facilities for military purposes “is also prohibited under international law.”

But he explained that even if this is true, it is up to Israel – as the occupying power – to coordinate with those in charge of the facilities on how to carry out an evacuation and to provide the necessary logistical means.

Israel’s embassy to the United Nations in Geneva responded on social media saying that Hamas “is the ‘de facto authority’ that has been in effective control of the Strip since 2007. As such, the laws of armed conflict apply. Coordination with Hamas is neither obligatory nor possible in this case.”

EFE abc-is/ics