The leaders of the United Nations Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the UN’s highest-level humanitarian coordination forum, issued a statement on 16 November clarifying that “humanitarian leaders will not participate in unilateral proposals to create ‘zones’ safety in Gaza.”

“As humanitarian leaders – the statement reads – our position is clear: We 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.”

“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,” write the 18 leaders of the UN permanent committee. “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.”

The IASC, created in 1991 by a United Nations General Assembly resolution, brings together the executive heads of 18 organizations and consortia to formulate policies, establish strategic priorities and mobilize resources in response to humanitarian crises. Among the signatories, the managers of UN agencies such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR ), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Program (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

To learn more, read our Israel/Palestine conflict factsheet

On the cover photo, the headquarters of the United Nations in New York