TWN Info Service on Health Issues (Jan09/03)
23 January 2009
Third World Network

WHO chief requested to dispatch urgent mission to Gaza
Published in SUNS #6624 dated 23 January 2009

Geneva, 22 Jan (Riaz K. Tayob) -- The Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) has requested Director-General Dr Margaret Chan to dispatch "an urgent specialized health mission" to Gaza. The mission has been tasked with identifying the urgent health and humanitarian needs and assess the destruction of medical facilities that has occurred in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

In a resolution adopted Wednesday evening, the Executive Board also requested the Director-General to submit a report to the Sixty-second World Health Assembly (which will be convened from 18-27 May 2009) on current, medium- and long-term needs on the direct and indirect effects on health of the Israeli military operations.

The WHO Executive Board is currently holding its 124th session from 19-27 January.

The resolution on "The grave health situation caused by Israeli military operations in the occupied Palestinian territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip" was adopted by a vote of 28 in favour, 4 abstentions and one against (the United States).

One Board member, El Salvador, was absent. Those who abstained were the Bahamas, Samoa, New Zealand and Malawi.

The United Kingdom, Denmark and Hungary, members of the EU on the Executive Board, voted in favour of the resolution.

The sponsors of the resolution included Executive Board members Afghanistan, Djibouti, Indonesia, Mauritania, Oman, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Turkey, Niger, Mali and Uganda.

A first draft of the resolution had initially been tabled on Tuesday but was only considered on Wednesday at the behest of the US and the EU as they sought time to get instructions from their capitals. This irked some Board members who asked for the adoption of the resolution without delay.

When the redrafted resolution was presented on Wednesday, the United States called for a vote.

(The Executive Board, which is made up of 34 member States drawn from various WHO regions, generally prefers to take decisions by consensus. The 34 members are entitled to vote, while other WHO members may provide input to the discussions but cannot vote.)

Apart from requesting the Director-General to dispatch an urgent health mission to Gaza, the resolution also welcomed and emphasized the respect of the ceasefire from both parties.

It called for a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza Strip, to lift its blockade and to open all border crossings to allow access and free movement of humanitarian aid to the occupied Gaza Strip, including reinforcing of humanitarian corridors to ensure the delivery of humanitarian medical and food aid and to facilitate the passage of medical teams and the transfer of the wounded and injured.

It stressed avoiding targeting civilians and residential areas from both sides in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War and avoiding of targeting of hospitals, clinics, medical centres, ambulance and emergency crews and food and medicine warehouses.

The resolution also called upon providing Palestinian people with the protection to live in security on their land, allowing them free movement and facilitating the tasks of medical teams, ambulances and emergency relief efforts, and enabling them to continue to provide health services.

It called for the urgent provision of necessary support for the Palestinian people by making available the urgent and immediate needs of ambulances and medical teams, medicines and medical supplies, as well as necessary coordination measures to facilitate the passage of this assistance to the Gaza Strip in support of the health sector and preventing the collapse of health institutions.

The resolution also called for contribution to the reconstruction of the health infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, which has been destroyed by the Israeli military operations.

[Meanwhile, the UN Coordinating Council called on Thursday for solidarity with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and other UN staff in Gaza. The Council cited UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon expressing anger and deep worry recently by the threat of the core protection under which the UN is operating -- the UN flag. Noting that even an UNRWA school that was designated a shelter was unable to offer sanctuary to civilians fleeing the fighting, the Council cited the Secretary-General demanding a thorough investigation of the incidents and the punishment of those responsible for these appalling acts.

[The Council observed that the main victims have been Palestinian civilians: As of 16 January 2009, the death toll stood at 1,115 dead, including 370 children, with 5,150 wounded, 1,745 of them children, according to Gaza health ministry figures, which UN officials call credible. In expressing its solidarity, the Council said that it is carrying out a collection drive for funds, as well as holding a solidarity demonstration for the benefit of all those who have suffered during the recent military activities in Gaza on the grounds of the UN Office in Geneva on Thursday. The Council also expressed its full support for the recent UN Human Rights Council and Security Council resolutions and the efforts of the Secretary-General with regard to Gaza.

[Separately, the UN Staff Council's Standing Committee on the Security and Independence of the International Civil Service demanded a "full and independent investigation" of the recent attacks by Israeli forces directed against the UN and UNRWA in Gaza. The Committee protested these Israeli military actions, and called upon the UN Secretary-General "to put in motion legal action to ensure that justice is done and those accountable are held responsible for their actions, including by referring the matter to the International Criminal Court if war crimes were committed."] +