Skip to main content

Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Gaza: Türk urges ceasefire as civilians pushed to frontier amid escalation

19 December 2023

A woman inspects the destroyed building of Palestinian journalist Adel Zorob, who was killed overnight in an Israeli bombardment, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 19, 2023. © Mahmud HAMS / AFP

GENEVA (19 December 2023) – UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk said today he feared for the rapidly increasing number of civilians in Gaza increasingly corralled towards the border with Egypt, as hostilities continue to escalate, including wave after wave of Israeli airstrikes, naval shelling, tank fire and sniper attacks, as well as the indiscriminate firing of rockets by Palestinian armed groups into Israel.

Türk implored all parties to heed calls by the international community for a sustainable ceasefire. “The call for a ceasefire – on human rights and humanitarian grounds – is getting louder by the day, and must be heeded,” said the High Commissioner.

“As those in Gaza endure such immense suffering, despair and heartbreak are growing more intense across the world. More than 19,400 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed since 7 October 2023. Several thousand more are believed buried under the rubble.”

Strikes on civilian infrastructure that serve as shelters, such as hospitals, schools and religious facilities, continue to be reported, he said, causing deaths and injuries and forcing other IDPs to move yet again. The Human Rights Office has also documented allegations of arbitrary detention, torture and unlawful killings, including at schools and hospitals in Northern Gaza and Gaza City during operations conducted by Israeli forces.

“Allegations of breaches of the laws of war must be immediately and fully investigated,” Türk said. “Those responsible for such acts must be held to account, and justice served.”

Nearly two million people have been displaced, many of them forced to move multiple times even as bombs rain down around them. Israeli Forces continue issuing evacuation orders in a confusing and contradictory manner, he said. “Now, Palestinians are being forced into smaller and smaller areas, in a mass displacement up to the Gaza-Egyptian border while military operations continue to encroach ever closer. There is simply nowhere left in Gaza for them to go.”

Rafah has become the epicentre of displacement with over one million people - almost half of the population - concentrated in extremely overcrowded and unbearable living conditions, exacerbated by the onset of winter.

Türk said the trickle of humanitarian relief crossing from Egypt, as well as Sunday’s opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing, was only enough for a fraction of those in need as Israel’s siege on Gaza remains in force. Thousands gather in front of aid distribution centres seeking essential supplies and protection. Tensions and daily struggles for basic needs, with instances of desperate displaced people stopping trucks to forcibly obtain food.

Civilians in Northern Gaza are getting no relief at all. “In the north, an estimated 100,000 civilians remain completely isolated from relief efforts, and too scared to move amid the relentless bombing, tank patrols and for fear of snipers,” Türk said. “They are trapped in a living hell.

“The international community has clearly expressed its opinion: the fighting must stop. The remaining hostages must also be released, as must those arbitrarily detained by Israeli forces. And the parties to the conflict -- along with those States with influence – must work to support a credible political process that will lead to the agreed two-State solution.”

For more information and media requests, please contact:

In Geneva
Jeremy Laurence +41 22 917 9383 /

In Nairobi
Seif Magango - +254 788 343 897 /

Tag and share

Twitter @UNHumanRights
Facebook unitednationshumanrights
Instagram @unitednationshumanrights

Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel

See all Media coverage of the situation