GENEVA: United Nations workers observed a minute’s silence on Monday to honour the more than 100 employees killed in Gaza since the Israel-Hamas war began last month, the largest toll of humanitarian workers in the organisation’s 78-year history.

Staff at UN offices in Geneva bowed their heads as a candle was lit in memory of the 101 employees of UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza. UN flags across the world flew at half mast.

“This is the highest number of aid workers killed in the history of our organisation in such a short time,” said Tatiana Valovaya, Director-General of the UN office in Geneva.

“We are gathered here today, united in this very symbolic location, to pay respect to our brave colleagues who sacrificed their lives while serving under the United Nations flag.”

UNRWA has said that some staff members were killed while queuing for bread while others were killed along with their families in their homes in Israel’s aerial and ground war against Hamas in response to the Oct. 7 cross-border assault by the movement that rules the Gaza Strip.

“UNRWA staff in Gaza appreciate the UN lowering the flag around the world,” Tom White, director of UNRWA in Gaza, said in a statement. “In Gaza however, we have to keep the UN flag flying high as a sign that we are still standing and serving the people of Gaza.”

After Gaza, the next most deadly conflict for UN aid workers was Nigeria in 2011 when a suicide bomber attacked their Abuja office during an insurgency, killing 46 people.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths in small, densely populated Gaza, saying the group uses the population of the coastal enclave as human shields. Hamas denies this.

“I would like to say that we are really facing very challenging times for multilateralism, for the world,” Valovaya said. “But the United Nations is more relevant than ever.”


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