By Emma Farge
GENEVA (Reuters) – The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on Tuesday deplored the conflict in Gaza as a “moral failure” of the international community and urged Israel and Hamas to reach a new deal to halt the fighting.
“I have been speaking of moral failure because every day this continues is a day more where the international community hasn’t proven capable of ending such high levels of suffering and this will have an impact on generations not only in Gaza,” ICRC president Mirjana Spoljaric told journalists in Geneva following trips to the Gaza Strip and Israel.
“There’s nothing without an agreement by the two sides, so we urge them to keep negotiating…” she said, referring to the release of Israeli hostages taken to Gaza by Hamas gunmen during their deadly rampage in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
“The releases in themselves are highly complex, highly sensitive missions.”
A truce mediated by Qatar and Egypt held for a week at the end of November and brought about the release of 110 hostages in Gaza in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and teenagers from Israeli jails.
Heavy fighting resumed on Dec. 1 and some of the remaining hostages have been declared dead in absentia by Israeli authorities.
Although the ICRC facilitated the release of hostages during the truce, the group has been criticised by some Israelis for not doing more to have the hostages freed. Some social media users have equated the ICRC to a taxi service to drive hostages out of Gaza.
“You don’t just go there and take the hostages and bring them out,” Spoljaric said, saying that any analogy with an Uber or taxi service was “unacceptable and outrageous.”
“Our colleagues risked their lives and their safety and security during these operations and the hostages are highly exposed while these things are ongoing,” she added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to confirm last week that new negotiations were under way to recover hostages still held by Hamas, after a source said Israel’s intelligence chief met the prime minister of Qatar.
Spoljaric said the ICRC would stand ready to assist again once the parties arrive at an agreement.
“We continue to talk to all sides to then be ready to operationalise the agreement that they reach.”
(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Miranda Murray and Mark Heinrich)