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Israel-Hamas conflict: convoy, corridor, humanitarian pause... How is aid to civilians organized in times of war?

Air strikes and ground attacks have raged in the Gaza Strip since the deadly Hamas attack in Israel on October 7.

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Israel-Hamas conflict: convoy, corridor, humanitarian pause... How is aid to civilians organized in times of war?

Air strikes and ground attacks have raged in the Gaza Strip since the deadly Hamas attack in Israel on October 7. Civilians find themselves on the front lines of the bombings. More than 8,300 Palestinians have been killed, including 3,457 children, and more than 21,000 have been injured since the start of the conflict, according to a latest report from Hamas on Monday October 30. The remaining inhabitants have been subjected to a complete siege which has deprived them of water, food and electricity since October 9.

“In times of war, civilians must be able to flee, be protected and benefit from humanitarian aid,” says Lucile Marbeau, spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). To do this, international humanitarian organizations can send convoys, participate in the establishment of corridors and request a humanitarian pause. Le Figaro takes stock of these various aids to populations, which nevertheless remain difficult to deploy in hostile territory.

This aid is governed by international humanitarian law “to prevent military strategy from taking precedence over assistance to populations,” explains Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, strategic advisor in international humanitarian law for Médecins sans frontières and author of the Practical Dictionary of Humanitarian Law ( Ed. La Découverte).

Humanitarian convoys make it possible to transport “material relief as well as humanitarian and medical relief personnel in situations of armed conflict,” explains Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier. But sending any truck or relief team requires that the convoy organizers inform the various parties involved in the conflict, here Israel and Gaza, to prevent them from being targeted in the fighting. International humanitarian law entrusts this activity to “impartial humanitarian organizations” already present on site. In Gaza, these include the ICRC, NGOs such as Médecins sans Frontières, the Palestinian Red Crescent and the United Nations Relief and Reconstruction Administration (UNRRA).

These independent institutions undertake “to verify that the goods transported are not weapons but rather medicines, water or food”. This international right to supplies is unconditional when “the population suffers from shortages of goods essential to its survival. In this case, the relief convoys cannot be refused by the parties to the conflict,” says the strategic advisor.

In Gaza, doctors “operate on the ground” and perform cesarean sections or “amputations of children without anesthesia” due to a lack of medicine, Médecins du Monde (MDM) denounced on Monday. Due to a lack of drinking water, “people are drinking sea water, people on my team have diarrhea, their kids will be dehydrated in a few days,” added the vice-president of the NGO. , Jean-François Corty.

The term “corridor” is not used by international humanitarian law. According to Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, it actually refers “essentially to agreements concluded between the parties involved in the conflict on the precise route, timetables and security arrangements concerning the passage of relief convoys at checkpoints and in conflict zones” , specifies Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier. These corridors “can allow the departure of civilians, the arrival of humanitarian assistance or the evacuation of the wounded, sick or dead,” describes the ICRC on its website.

International humanitarian organizations must therefore negotiate and agree with the parties to the conflicts on security arrangements. Defining a route for a humanitarian corridor also makes it possible to avoid “a new negotiation for each convoy,” adds the advisor in international humanitarian law.

For the convoy to pass through the humanitarian corridor without incident, “it is important that it is not targeted” by the belligerents, continues Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier. This is why international humanitarian organizations are calling for “breaks” to “suspend strikes while the convoy passes,” specifies the expert. The European Union, concerned by the situation in Gaza, called on October 19 for the establishment of “continuous, rapid, secure and unhindered humanitarian access (...) to help those in need by all necessary means, including humanitarian corridors and breaks for humanitarian needs.

But this decision is in reality “ambiguous”, points out Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier. Because in practice, “it is difficult to find agreements for a continued humanitarian pause, without one of the warring parties benefiting from it” on a military level, she analyzes. In this case, it will be “difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee a total interruption of the fighting”.

Humanitarian operations are not without risk. Conflict actors may not respect agreements at the last minute. This is why negotiation is at the heart of the work of international humanitarian organizations. “We are in constant dialogue with all parties,” assures Lucile Marbeau, spokesperson for the ICRC. The work is also based on “identification and accountability of the interlocutors within each party – Israeli, Egyptian and Gazan – because they are essential to making commitments”, underlines Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier.

In the case of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the blockade situation hampers negotiations and therefore the organization of humanitarian aid. Several tons of humanitarian aid are currently piling up at the Rafah border crossing, between Egypt and Gaza, awaiting inspection by Israel, an American official informed AFP. Only 117 aid trucks have arrived in Gaza since October 21, according to the latest UN count Monday morning. The Israeli Defense Ministry body overseeing civilian activities in the Palestinian Territories, COGAT, said Tuesday that another 39 trucks arrived Monday.

“Last Friday, a team of surgeons, nurses and anesthetists was deployed by the ICRC to Gaza on Monday and medical assistance was distributed,” informs Lucile Marbeau. However, this aid is not enough. “The handful of convoys authorized via Rafah are nothing compared to the needs of more than 2 million people trapped in Gaza,” denounced the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini, regretting that “an entire population (is) dehumanized”.

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