NEW YORK/GAZA CITY (The Thursday Times) — The international community has been left in shock and dismay as news broke out about the tragic death of nine United Nations (UN) staff members in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli airstrikes. The deaths were confirmed by the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), on Wednesday, marking a new low in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The UNRWA stated that these fatalities occurred from the onset of Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Gaza, following a surprise assault by Palestinian militant group Hamas last Saturday. The strikes unleashed by Israel have turned several neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip into rubble, and the death toll continues to rise.
Juliette Touma, UNRWA’s Director of Communications, underlined the imperative of civilian protection during conflicts, asserting that civilians “should be protected in accordance with the laws of war.” The loss of UN personnel has underscored the high human cost of the escalating violence in the region, and the need for an urgent ceasefire and dialogue to prevent further casualties.
The airstrikes are part of a wider aggressive counteroffensive launched by the Israeli military in response to Hamas’ unexpected barrage of rocket strikes and militants infiltrating Israel, leaving behind scenes of devastation in villages along the border. In reaction to the Hamas-led attacks, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared war, vowing a forceful operation across all fronts to safeguard Israeli territories.
The UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory highlighted the emergence of clear evidence pointing to war crimes committed by both sides in the ongoing conflict. Israel’s recent assault and its announcement of a complete siege on Gaza have been severely criticised, with concerns that the withholding of essential resources like water, food, electricity, and fuel will invariably lead to civilian casualties and constitute collective punishment.
The fallout from these incidents has reached the international stage, with US President Joe Biden condemning the terrorist attacks by Hamas and affirming support for Israel, even as he acknowledged the loss of American lives amid the conflict.