As humanitarian leaders, the position is clear: They will not participate in the establishment of any ”safe zone” in Gaza that is set up without the agreement of all the parties, and unless fundamental conditions are in place to ensure safety and other essential needs are met and a mechanism is in place to supervise its implementation.
Under the prevalent conditions, proposals to unilaterally create “safe zones” in Gaza risk creating harm for civilians, including large-scale loss of life, and must be rejected. Without the right conditions, concentrating civilians in such zones in the context of active hostilities can raise the risk of attack and additional harm. No “safe zone” is truly safe when it is declared unilaterally or enforced by the presence of armed forces.
Any discussions around “safe zones” must not detract from the parties’ obligation to take constant care to spare civilians – wherever they are – and meet their essential needs, including by facilitating rapid, safe, and unhindered humanitarian access to all civilians in need.
Intense hostilities and large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure have driven the mass displacement of civilians. Almost 1.6 million people are currently displaced in Gaza. The civilian population in Gaza must have access to the essentials for survival, including food, water, shelter, hygiene, health, assistance, and safety. Humanitarian organizations must have access to fuel in sufficient quantities to deliver aid and provide basic services. The leaders remain committed to the assistance and protection of civilians and other protected persons, wherever they are. Humanitarian relief personnel must be ensured the freedom of movement essential to carry out their functions subject to the requirements under international humanitarian law.
None of the humanitarian organizations we represent has been involved in preparing for the arrival of displaced people in any prospective “safe zone” – or “humanitarian zone” – in Gaza. A “safe zone” is a temporary area that aims to keep civilians safe, protected, and spared from hostilities. The following conditions must be in place for all displaced people in a “safe zone”:
- The agreement of the parties to refrain from hostilities in and around the zone and to respect its civilian character.
- Provision of the essentials for survival, including food, water, shelter, hygiene, health assistance, and safety.
- Allowing displaced people to move freely and voluntarily return to their residences as soon as possible.
Failure to meet these basic conditions may constitute a breach of international humanitarian and human rights law.