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Gaza: International nursing community renews calls for peace

Nursing groups have reiterated calls for a peaceful solution to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, as health workers and civilians continue to die and be injured amid the fighting.

The International Council of Nurses (ICN), which represents more than 130 national nurses associations around the world, has released a new statement from its board of directors.

It expresses “deepest concern” for Palestinians and Israelis “caught up” in the conflict between the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and Hamas, described as a terrorist organisation by the UK Government.

“We appeal to all parties to urgently, and of paramount importance, find a way to provide safe access to medical and humanitarian aid and support for all people caught up in the conflict”

ICN board of directors

On 7 October, Hamas attacked Israeli settlements not far from the Gaza border. Around 1,400 people were killed in the attacks, which also led to the capture of around 250 hostages.

In the period since 7 October, IDF attacks on Gaza, including air strikes on Gaza City, have killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, according to the Ministry of Health in Palestine.

In its latest statement, the ICN’s board called on all parties to “establish a peace process, stop the violence, and secure peace”.

It went on to “condemn” violence in the region, reiterating a plea ICN chief executive Howard Catton made last month for safe access to aid to be preserved.

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“We are deeply concerned for the innocent civilians, particularly women and children, the elderly and the most vulnerable, who are caught up in the conflict and whose physical and mental health are being damaged,” it said.

“We are conscious, not only of the health care needs of those who are directly affected by the conflict, but also the pre-existing and ongoing needs of people with long-term conditions,” it continued.

“We acknowledge the service and enormous sacrifice of all health care workers in the conflict providing care and support to all people whilst their personal safety is at risk at a time when they are dealing with their own loss, including caring for injured family members and mourning those lost.”

According to unverified claims by Gaza’s health ministry, 192 health workers – including some doctors and nurses from overseas – have been killed in Gaza since 7 October with 113 health facilities hit.

In addition, the United Nations has said that, as of 6 November, a total of 65 health facilities including 14 hospitals are out of service due to damage from IDF air strikes or a lack of supplies.

The destruction of Al-Ahli al-Arabi Hospital, in North East Gaza, in particular, shook the international nursing community. Between 100 and 470, depending on sources, people died in the explosion.

The explosion was most likely caused by a missile, or part of one, fired from within Gaza and not from Israel, prime minister Rishi Sunak said on 23 October, following counter claims from both sides.

In response to the explosion, many nursing groups began publicly calling for peace in the region, including the ICN, Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and UK ethnic minority nursing associations.

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The latter group co-signed an open letter to Rishi Sunak ahead of his October trip to Israel, calling for him to back a ceasefire.

The ICN said in its new statement that the physical and mental toll on nurses and other health workers operating in the region “must be urgently addressed”.

It added: “We particularly express our heartfelt concern for the members of our national nursing associations in the region and all nurses working on the frontlines of care.

“We, as the global voice of nursing, stand in solidarity with all nurses and other health care workers affected by the conflict.”

Palestinian authorities have claimed the IDF has attacked refugee camps and aid corridors, while the Israeli government has claimed these attacks have only been targeting Hamas cells.

ICN’s statement continued: “[The board] condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and renewed its demand for safe access to health services for all and the protection of health care workers.

“We call for all parties to respect their legal obligations under international humanitarian law to protect and respect safe access to health care services and facilities and ensure the safety and protection of civilians and health care workers.

“We appeal to all parties to urgently, and of paramount importance, find a way to provide safe access to medical and humanitarian aid and support for all people caught up in the conflict.”

Speaking on behalf of the Jewish Nurses and Midwives Association UK, registered nurse Gabrielle Cohen, added her own call for peace, but said it could only happen once 240 Israeli hostages still held by Hamas were released.

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“These hostages include 30 babies and children along with many elderly individuals who are reliant on daily treatment and whose conditions during the last month will have most likely drastically decreased,” she said.

“As you will appreciate, until all the hostages taken by Hamas are released, the parties in the conflict will not be in a position to establish a peace process, stop the violence and secure peace,” she added.

Ofrah Muflahi, registered nurse and founder of the British Arab Nursing and Midwifery Association (BANMA) – which co-signed the open letter to Mr Sunak – said the conflict was “negatively impacting” members of her group, especially those with family in Israel or Gaza.

“We are having to provide additional support to all those affected,” she said. “Under these circumstances, as much as there is a call for a lasting peaceful solution, the most important thing is to have a ceasefire and provide safe humanitarian support to all those affected.”

The ICN’s board encouraged people to support its Nurses For Peace campaign, and to donate via the ICN Humanitarian Fund.

Originally set up to support nurses on the frontline of the war in Ukraine, Nurses For Peace now works to give support and solidarity with all nurses working in conflict zones around the world.

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