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UNRWA suspends aid to northern Gaza amid ‘collapse of civil order’

Desperation of people searching for food in southern areas is making journeys north unsafe, says UN

The UN agency in charge of Palestinian affairs said it has been forced to pause aid deliveries to northern Gaza – where it is not “possible to conduct proper humanitarian operations” – amid increasing reports of famine among people in the area.

The UN began warning of “pockets of famine” in Gaza last month, with needs particularly acute in the north. Conditions have steadily worsened since, causing a rise in the number of hungry people making fraught attempts to claim aid from passing trucks.

“The desperate behaviour of hungry and exhausted people is preventing the safe and regular passage of our trucks,” said Tamara Alrifai, director of external relations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). She added that she was “very wary of how to explain this so as not to make it sound like we are blaming people or describing these things as criminal acts”.

“But we want to say that their stopping our trucks to help themselves is no longer making it possible to conduct proper humanitarian operations,” she added.

UNRWA has not been granted permits by the Israeli authorities to deliver aid to northern Gaza for more than a month, while humanitarian organisations have increasingly despaired at the tiny trickle of aid permitted into Gaza.

The agency has also warned that it could be forced to cease operations across the Middle East in the coming weeks amid a funding crisis, while Israeli politicians including the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have demanded that UNRWA cease operations and that other UN agencies assume the same work.

Before the 7 October last year, when Hamas militants stormed towns and kibbutzim around the Gaza Strip, killing an estimated 1,139 people and taking about 250 people hostage, an average of 500 trucks of aid were permitted by the Israeli authorities to enter the territory each day. But amid a fierce campaign of Israeli bombardment, the supply of aid permitted into Gaza has dwindled, with sometimes as little as a few dozen trucks allowed in.

The UN has warned that famine risks taking hold across Gaza, particularly in the north. Aid convoys that enter Gaza from the southernmost city of Rafah pass areas where an estimated 1.5 million people are seeking shelter after being forced south by Israeli forces, and have grown increasingly desperate due to the lack of food.

“We are stuck in a vicious cycle, where the security of our convoys are at risk, meaning we can no longer send aid, which contributes to hunger and despair,” said Alrifai.

Since Israeli ground forces encircled Gaza City last November and demanded that civilians flee south, aid deliveries to the north have become increasingly difficult for humanitarian groups.

Earlier this week, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had been forced to pause aid deliveries to northern Gaza due to “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order”, after an initial suspension three weeks earlier when a strike hit a UNRWA truck carrying aid.

When the WFP attempted to resume deliveries, it said its convoys were fired upon, that crowds of people attempted to take goods from the trucks, and that one of its drivers was beaten.

“People are already dying from hunger-related causes,” they warned.

UNRWA said earlier this month that a strike on its food convoy came from Israeli naval forces as it waited to move into northern Gaza. The organisation shared pictures of a truck with a gaping hole in its side.

WFP officials warned in the same statement that only four of its convoys – 35 trucks – had managed to reach northern Gaza last month, enough food for about 130,000 people.

Matthew Hollingworth, head of the WFP in Gaza, said this amount of aid was “not enough to prevent a famine and we know levels of hunger in Gaza are getting at that level now”.


The Guardian, 2024


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