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ISR | Oct 26, 2023

UN steps up appeal for fuel in Gaza as humanitarian crisis deepens

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United Nations workers arrive to distribute aid to Palestinians, who have fled their homes due to Israeli strikes and take shelter in a UN-run school, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip October 23, 2023. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

GAZA (Reuters): The U.N. agency providing aid to Palestinian civilians in besieged Gaza warned it may have to shut down operations shortly if no fuel reaches the enclave, amid an increasingly desperate need for shelter, water, food and medical services.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said it urgently needed fuel to maintain life-saving humanitarian operations in the Islamist Hamas-ruled enclave that has been under Israeli bombardment for almost three weeks.

“If fuel is not received into Gaza, UNRWA will be forced to significantly reduce and in some cases bring its humanitarian operations across the Gaza Strip to a halt. The coming 24 hours are very critical,” it said.

Israel has refused to let in fuel with aid shipments, saying it could be seized by Hamas.

More than 613,000 people made homeless by the war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas are sheltering in 150 UNRWA facilities across the shattered territory, one of the world’s most densely populated places.

“In the last 24 hours another three UNRWA staff members have been killed, bringing the total to 38 staff killed,” said UNRWA.

The enclave is reeling from unrelenting Israeli air strikes, triggered by a deadly cross-border rampage into southern Israeli communities by Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Israel says the Hamas operation killed some 1,400 people. Gaza’s health ministry said on Thursday that more than 7,028 Palestinians had been killed in air strikes since then.

The death toll is likely to rise if Israel launches a widely expected ground offensive aimed at annihilating Hamas, whose fighters it says are enmeshed in the population as cover.

Palestinians in Gaza said air strikes had pounded the territory again overnight and people living in its central area, near the Bureij refugee camp and east of the village of Qarara, reported intensive tank shelling before daybreak.

Around midday on Thursday, according to officials at Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis, Israel bombed an area not far from an UNRWA shelter for displaced people, killing at least 18 people and causing panic among the displaced.

Mahmoud Shameya, sheltering there with his wife and three children, said they lived in instant terror because of ongoing Israeli bombing.

“I urge the whole world to protect us,” he said. “We sleep amid the sounds of explosions and we wake up to the sounds of explosions, the children are always blocking their ears with their hands.”

IMPOVERISHMENT TURNS TO DESPERATION

Gaza’s 2.3 million people were already suffering from widespread poverty and high unemployment over years of Israeli and Egyptian blockade before Israel began flattening its Palestinian neighbour in response to the Hamas assault.

Now many Gazans are sheltering in hospitals that are struggling to avoid shutdown for lack of electricity, as well as in schools, homes and existing refugee camps and in the streets after Israel warned them to leave their homes in the north.

Israel needs to agree to a full ceasefire in Gaza in order enable unimpeded deliveries of emergency aid, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said on Thursday in The Hague.

Despite increasingly critical humanitarian shortages, world powers failed at the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to agree on a resolution to seek a lull in the fighting to deliver meaningful amounts of aid.

The World Health Organization said 26 metric tons of medical materials were waiting on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing with Gaza for approval to enter the enclave.

These supplies would cover basic health for 110,000 people, allow surgery for 3,700 trauma patients and give care for 20,000 patients needing treatment for chronic diseases, the U.N. agency said in an email to Reuters.

At the UNRWA shelter, many displaced people voiced despair at the lack of aid. They said they had heard about some U.N. trucks carrying basic supplies into Gaza but very little.

Omar Al-Namara, one of the displaced, said that in the two weeks he had stayed there he had received one 330ml bottle of water, and was sleeping on the ground. “A small bottle of water for each person. Only one since we came here, what shall I do with it? Use it as eye-drops?” he said.

Namara said some displaced people were being forced to buy gallons of water outside the compound because UNRWA wasn’t giving enough for families. That water, he said, was “polluted and undrinkable, but we drink it because we are thirsty.”

Nahed Abu Taaema, director of Nasser Hospital, said he had received many dead people since Wednesday night, mostly women and children. “We have received 77 martyrs, most of them women and children, since last night,” Taaema said in a statement carried by Hamas’s Al-Aqsa radio station.

The losses are being felt by all Gazans in every way.

The uncle of Palestinian boy Elias Abu Shammala, who was killed in an Israeli air strike, carried his body in his hands to a grave accompanied by relatives and friends. The uncle said the boy died of his wounds in hospital because officials were unable to send him outside Gaza for treatment.

The border crossing with Egypt was closed.

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