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Gaza: ICN calls for protection of health staff and facilities

The International Council of Nursing (ICN) has called for Israeli and Hamas combatants to “respect” international rules on ensuring the safety of nurses and healthcare facilities, after a strike on a Gaza hospital left many people dead or injured.

ICN chief executive officer Howard Catton said an “agreement” must be made with the “utmost urgency” between the Israel Defence Force (IDF) and Palestinian militant group Hamas to allow the safe supply of medical supplies, personnel, food, water and electricity.

“It is of the utmost urgency that there is an agreement on the supply of medicines and humanitarian aid”

Howard Catton

Mr Catton made the remarks after an Israeli airstrike allegedly, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, hit a hospital in the Palestinian territory of Gaza on Tuesday night (17 October). The IDF has claimed the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket operated by Hamas.

Palestinian health officials have said up to 500 people were killed in the explosion, The Independent reports.

This came after the long-running conflict between Israel and Palestine flared back up with an attack by Hamas earlier this month, killing an estimated 1,000 Israelis, according to Israel spokespeople.

Attacks by the IDF since the resuming of direct hostilities on Gaza City have reportedly left more than 3,000 Palestinians dead.

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Mr Catton said the ICN, alongside other global health groups, “absolutely condemn all acts of violence”, speaking to Nursing Times the day after the attack on the hospital in Gaza.

“Some of them we see are heinous acts that have wrought immense suffering, brutality and harm to people on both sides of the conflict,” he said.

“We have, along with our other global health professions, called for the respect of and protection of healthcare workers and facilities.

“There are clear international rules and conventions which should mean healthcare workers are not a target, and their rights are protected along with the right to access healthcare for those people who find themselves in the middle of a war.”

Mr Catton reiterated that these rules should be followed.

The Guardian reported that the same Palestinian hospital as the one destroyed earlier this week was previously struck by an Israeli rocket, injuring four medical staff.

“Some of the feedback from on the ground, some of the stories which we’re hearing, it’s horrendous,” Mr Catton said.

“It’s horrific. One almost doesn’t have the words and vocabulary to describe the experiences that people are going through as a result of the acts of violence which have happened.

“That causes immense trauma. People who are trying to continue to provide healthcare, or access to health services, are fearful for their own lives. They are involved in funerals and the burials of friends and their own families and close neighbours who have died.

“[This brings] an immense sense of insecurity about what is going to happen next, never feeling that you’re safe.”

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Mr Catton continued: “The hospital system in Gaza has been devastated. [There is a] lack of equipment, supplies, water, electricity, fuel, medicines and staff. Facilities have been destroyed as well.

“The targeting of a hospital, resulting in the tragic loss of lives – including those of health workers, patients and civilians taking shelter – constitutes a war crime under international law” 

Unison spokesperson

“We think it is of the utmost urgency that there is an agreement on the supply of medicines and humanitarian aid.

“Safe corridors for people to enter and to leave, as well.

“Not to do that – as well as being in contravention for what the international rules are – in these circumstances feels inhuman as well.”

UK public sector union Unison, which has a large nursing membership, condemned the bombing of al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital. 

A union spokesperson said: “The targeting of a hospital, resulting in the tragic loss of lives – including those of health workers, patients and civilians taking shelter – constitutes a war crime under international law.

“We send our condolences to all those who mourn the loss of loved ones. 

“Unison reiterates its call for both Israel and Hamas to respect international law and for the international community to immediately put in place meaningful negotiations to end the conflict and to stop it escalating to other countries in the region.”

The union made a similar demand to Mr Catton, that both domestic and United Nations (UN) health and aid workers are allowed safe passage in and out of Gaza. 

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They said: “We also call for the role of the UN and aid organisations to be respected and facilitated, so that humanitarian corridors can be opened up and aid can get in, and call for the immediate safe release of those who have been kidnapped.

“Unison supports the call for peaceful protests calling for an end to the conflict, stands in support of trade unionists in the Middle East, and condemns the worrying rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic attacks in the UK. 

“Unison reaffirms its belief that only a two-state solution – a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel – can bring about lasting peace.”

The ICN chief executive urged anyone who can to support the ICN’s Nurses for Peace scheme, first launched after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia last year.

The scheme shows solidarity with nurses in countries at war, condemns attacks on healthcare, and calls for peace.

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