A child killed on average every 10 minutes in Gaza, says WHO chief

A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip damages a home, in central Israel

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A child is killed on average every 10 minutes in the Gaza Strip, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the United Nations Security Council on Friday, warning: "Nowhere and no one is safe."

He said that half of Gaza's 36 hospitals and two-thirds of its primary healthcare centers were not functioning and those that were operating were way beyond their capacities, describing the healthcare system as being "on its knees."

"Hospital corridors crammed with the injured, the sick, the dying. Morgues overflowing. Surgery without anesthesia. Tens of thousands of displaced people sheltering at hospitals," Tedros told the 15-member council.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, after an Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel in which it says the militants killed around 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages. Israel has struck Gaza - an enclave of 2.3 million people - from the air, imposed a siege and launched a ground invasion.

"On average, a child is killed every 10 minutes in Gaza," Tedros said.

Since Oct. 7, the WHO has verified more than 250 attacks on healthcare in Gaza and the West Bank, while there had been 25 attacks on healthcare in Israel, Tedros said. Israel says Hamas hides weapons in tunnels under hospitals, charges Hamas denies.

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Gilad Erdan told the Security Council that Israel had created a taskforce to establish hospitals in southern Gaza. On Oct. 12, Israel ordered some 1.1 million people in Gaza to move south ahead of its ground invasion.

"Israel is in advanced talks with the United Arab Emirates, with the ICRC and with other European countries regarding the establishment of field-hospital and floating-hospital ships," Erdan said. "Israel facilitated the Jordanian airdrop of medical aid to hospitals in northern Gaza."

"Sadly, Israel is doing far more for the well-being of Gazans than the WHO or any other U.N. body," he said.

The United States is working to try and get fuel to hospitals in Gaza, said deputy U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Robert Wood, stressing that civilian and humanitarian facilities must be respected and protected under international law.

Wood said Hamas had been using civilians as human shields.

"These cowardly tactics do not diminish Israel's responsibility to distinguish between civilians and terrorists in its fight against Hamas," he said. "The risks of harm to civilians at sites that Hamas is using for military purpose absolutely have to be considered when planning an operation."

The Security Council stood for a moment of silence at the start of the meeting to remember civilians killed in Israel and Gaza, along with 101 people working with the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA).

Tedros recalled growing up during war in Ethiopia, saying he understood what the children of Gaza must be going through.

"The sound of gunfire and shells whistling through the air, the smell of smoke after they struck, tracer bullets in the night sky, the fear, the pain, the loss – these things have stayed with me throughout my life," he said.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)