Israel denounced over Gaza health emergency at WHO meeting

FILE PHOTO: Palestinians evacuate Kamal Adwan hospital following an Israeli strike, in Beit Lahia

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 30 countries condemned Israel's attacks on hospitals in Gaza and demanded more scrutiny of its role in the enclave's health crisis at a World Health Organization meeting on Wednesday, and some blamed Israel for a growing risk of famine.

The WHO has recorded hundreds of attacks on health facilities in the occupied Palestinian territories, which includes Gaza, since the Oct. 7 Israel-Hamas war began, but does not attribute blame.

In the latest phase of the conflict this month, Israel launched a military operation against Rafah in south Gaza, blocking patient transfers, all but cutting off medical supplies and threatening its last functioning hospital.

A group of countries are backing a proposal at the WHO's annual assembly in Geneva that would mandate the U.N. health agency to boost documentation of the "catastrophic humanitarian crisis" in Gaza and report on "starvation" amid U.N. warnings of famine and disease after nearly eight months of conflict.

The motion is supported by over 30 countries, mostly from Africa and the Gulf region but also Russia, Turkey and China, but even more spoke in favour of it. A vote had been due on Wednesday, but further debate delayed it to Thursday.

"The healthcare system of Gaza is devastated. Israel has targeted hospitals in Gaza, completely destroying treatment facilities. This also means a war against the fundamental right to health," said Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.

He also accused Israel of using hunger as a weapon of war and said its actions against hospitals amounted to a war crime.

Palestinian ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi urged countries to support the motion. "We cannot allow Israel to destroy everything, to destroy health care facilities and to allow this to happen," he told the crowded meeting room.

Israel's ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar blamed Hamas for "deliberately putting the safety of patients at risk" by using health facilities for military purposes. It submitted an amendment to include a reference to the 250 hostages seized during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and to condemn the use of hospitals by armed groups. That amendment passed on Wednesday evening.

Israel denies responsibility for delays in getting aid into Gaza and says the U.N. and others are responsible for its distribution once inside.

Ireland was one of just a handful of countries to call for the release of the hostages in a speech where it also asked Israel to cease its Rafah operation.

(Reporting by Emma Farge and Jennifer Rigby; editing by William Maclean/Mark Heinrich)