PALESTINA-ISRAEL - WASHINGTON. The U.N. aid chief on Friday said he was "deeply alarmed" by Israeli ministers' statements about "plans to encourage the mass transfer" of Palestinian civilians from the Gaza Strip to third countries and he called anew for a ceasefire.
"Unless we act, it will become an indelible mark on our humanity," Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told the U.N. Security Council. "I reiterate my call for this council to take urgent action to bring this war to an end."
Griffiths painted a dire picture of a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip as Israel presses the offensive it launched after the Oct. 7 onslaught into Israel by the enclave's ruling Hamas Islamists that claimed some 1,200 lives.
Quoting Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry, he said that more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 58,000 injured since Israel launched the offensive in which it vows to destroy Hamas.
The "horrific" situation created by the "relentless" Israeli operation can be seen in the displacement of 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million Palestinians "forced to flee again and again as the bombs and missiles rain down," Griffiths continued.
"We are deeply alarmed by recent statements by Israeli ministers regarding plans to encourage the mass transfer of civilians from Gaza to third countries, currently referred to as 'voluntary relocation,'" he said.
Such statements, Griffiths said, raise concerns "about the possible forced transfer or deportation of the Palestinian population from the Gaza Strip" in violation of international law.
The statements by far right-wing Israeli cabinet ministers also have prompted the United States, Israel's closest ally, to raise similar concerns.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her British counterpart, Barbara Woodward, repeated those concerns during the meeting.
"These statements, along with statements by Israeli officials calling for the mistreatment of Palestinian detainees or the destruction of Gaza, are irresponsible, inflammatory, and only make it harder to secure a lasting peace," Thomas-Greenfield said.
Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deny they have plans to forcibly move the Palestinian population from Gaza.
Ilze Brands Kehris, U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, said the high civilian casualty toll, massive destruction of civilian infrastructure and displacement of civilians "raise very serious concerns about the potential commission of war crimes."
She warned that the risk of further grave violations, even atrocity crimes, is real. Israel denies committing war crimes.
The council met only hours after Israel rejected as false and "grossly distorted" accusations brought by South Africa in the U.N. International Criminal Court that its offensive is a state-led genocide campaign against Palestinians.