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Ceasefires for humanitarian purposes are crucial in order to address the extensive needs in Gaza.
Middle East World News

Ceasefires for humanitarian purposes are crucial in order to address the extensive needs in Gaza.

The beginning of their humanitarian update included a period of quiet reflection for those who have perished since the conflict began on October 7th, as well as for the 240 Israeli citizens, including men, women, and children, who are currently being held captive by Hamas.

In Israel and the Occupied Territories, the events of the past 26 days have been a troubling display that I would describe as a stain on our shared morality,” stated Martin Griffiths, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator who has recently visited the area. “As individuals, we all bear some responsibility for this situation.”

Death and displacement 

According to Mr. Griffiths’ recollection, approximately 1,400 Israelis and nearly 9,000 Palestinians have lost their lives. However, the exact number can only be determined once the debris in Gaza has been cleared. The devastation in Gaza is reminiscent of the initial stages of the Syrian conflict, when towns like Homs were completely destroyed.

Over 1.5 million individuals have been forced to leave their homes and approximately 600,000 are currently residing in shelters provided by UNRWA, the organization dedicated to supporting Palestinian refugees. Tragically, 72 UNRWA employees have lost their lives, making this the greatest number of staff casualties in a conflict.

Not enough trucks 

The ambassador stated that there have been successful humanitarian negotiations happening around the clock between Israel, Egypt, the United States, and the UN.

“Since the opening of the Rafah crossing on 21 October, a total of 329 aid trucks have successfully entered Gaza. On Thursday alone, 100 trucks made the journey. However, this is still below the average of 500 truckloads that were required before the conflict.”

“These negotiations – detailed and important as they are – don’t do the business. We are not keeping up with the progress towards desolation, which is the story of Gaza these days,” he said. 

Humanitarian pauses 

Mr. Griffiths emphasized the importance of upholding humanitarian laws, freeing all hostages without conditions, and safeguarding civilians and civilian infrastructure, including humanitarian personnel and their facilities.

All people have the right to be protected, regardless of whether they stay in one place or move to another. They also have the freedom to make their own choices. It is not fair to assume that those who choose not to evacuate support the enemy or are the intended victims of an attack. The speaker emphasized the importance of recognizing this.

The speaker stated that it is necessary for necessary items, such as humanitarian aid and fuel, to be permitted into Gaza. Additionally, Mr. Griffiths shared that he was informed about the upcoming delivery of more fuel to the area.

The speaker emphasized the importance of ongoing negotiations, but stated that they are insufficient. He called for regular pauses to address the urgent need for a humanitarian ceasefire in order to meet the needs of both the people of Gaza and Israelis affected by the conflict.

Risking bombing to obtain food

Taking the risk of being bombed in order to acquire bread.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the area cautioned that if hostilities persist, the situation will worsen.

According to Lynn Hastings, the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, four UNRWA shelters that were providing shelter for about 20,000 displaced individuals were struck on Thursday. This resulted in the death of at least 23 people and injuries to many more.

She also mentioned the dire situation in Gaza, where crucial backup generators for hospitals, water desalination plants, and food production facilities are gradually failing.

The current state of the health system is dire, with a lack of necessary resources, including supplies, water, electricity, and staff. So far, 14 hospitals and 51 primary health clinics have closed. Additionally, only one of the three water supply lines from Israel is currently functioning.

The issue of food availability is becoming more worrisome. Despite the danger of airstrikes, individuals are still risking their safety to wait in lines at bakeries in order to get bread. Unfortunately, some of these bakeries have already shut down due to a shortage of fuel.

Ease the suffering 

Although Ms. Hastings expressed appreciation for the agreement to provide aid through the Rafah crossing, she emphasized the urgency of increasing the speed of deliveries as fuel was not included in recent shipments. Additionally, she highlighted the necessity for more crossings in the future.

She emphasized the importance of implementing humanitarian ceasefires, stating that they would alleviate the tremendous human suffering and facilitate safer and easier access for humanitarian aid.

Next week, aid workers will release an updated emergency request for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. They predict that a total of $1.2 billion will be necessary to address the needs of both the entire population of Gaza and 500,000 individuals in the West Bank until the end of the year.

No safety

According to Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs, speaking from the Rafah logistics base, each person in Gaza has a tale of tragedy.

He said that even though people are taking shelter under the UN flag, it is not possible to ensure their safety under that same flag.

In the midst of the conflict, more than 50 of our facilities have been affected, with five direct hits. So far, 38 individuals seeking refuge in our shelters have lost their lives. Unfortunately, I believe this number will continue to increase with the ongoing fighting in the northern region.

Operational challenges

One of UNRWA’s main struggles is maintaining aid efforts “amidst an impending collapse of civil order and law, while also preparing for potential displacement in the southern region.”

The United Nations (UN) organization was a vital resource for the population of over two million in Gaza, who had been living under a blockade for 16 years. Along with the World Food Programme (WFP), the agency provided food assistance to 1.5 million people prior to the recent conflict.

The current functioning of operations relies on preexisting reserves. UNRWA is aiding 89 bakeries in Gaza, resulting in all bread being primarily made with flour provided by the organization.

A young girl eats bread distributed by the World Food Programme at an UNRWA school in Gaza.

© WFP/Ali Jadallah

A child consumes bread given out by the World Food Programme at a school run by UNRWA in Gaza.

Schools now shelters

UNRWA is also supporting water desalination, including at its camps and schools, through fuel supplies secured within Gaza. Mr. White reported that water is the chief need among people huddled in its shelters. Overall, nearly 600,000 Gazans are living in 149 UNRWA shelters, though the agency has lost contact with many of those located in the north.

He described how the shelters, which are typically UNRWA schools designed for 1,000 students, are currently accommodating an average of 4,000 displaced individuals. Women and children sleep inside the classrooms while men sleep outside.

The same scenario can be seen at Al-Shifa Hospital, which is the biggest hospital in Gaza. “Every available space” was occupied by those who were injured or seeking shelter there.

Life and death

Mr. White also described another lasting memory from his time at the hospital. While standing in the courtyard, he could hear and see airstrikes happening in the nearby suburbs.

“Almost immediately after the designated time, ambulances began arriving within a span of 10 minutes. The occupants of the ambulances were severely injured individuals, some of whom were lying on the floor. The triage process at the back of the ambulance involved determining who was deceased and who was still alive,” he explained.

The individuals who sustained severe blast and burn injuries were brought to a crowded emergency room. Meanwhile, the deceased were transported approximately 25 meters away to an outdoor morgue.

Ceasefire and public services

Similarly to Ms. Hastings, he emphasized the importance of not solely relying on humanitarian aid, as both the public and private sectors in Gaza must also be able to operate effectively.

Mr. White gave an example of the critical importance of the municipal services, which are now pumping untreated sewage into the sea.  Workers warn that when the fuel runs out, sewage will flow in the streets.

“He expressed the need for consistent and ongoing humanitarian aid and opportunities for entry, both from the public and private sectors. Additionally, the people present are urgently calling for a ceasefire to be implemented immediately.”

Concerns raised about alleged attack on ambulance convoy.

Senior officials from the United Nations have shown concern about reports stating that airstrikes have caused damage to ambulances near Shifa hospital while patients were being transported out on Friday, in accordance with orders from Israel to move south.

Israel claimed that it had targeted an ambulance on site, alleging that it was transporting Hamas militants.

UN News interviewed the World Health Organization’s regional representative for further information.

that Gaza is becoming uninhabitable

The head of UNRWA has issued a cautionary statement about the deteriorating living conditions in Gaza, suggesting that the territory is becoming increasingly unlivable.

Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini issued a warning on Friday that UNRWA staff will soon be unable to function without immediate action.

The UN General Assembly’s Fourth Committee, which reviews the agency’s work, was informed that a small number of convoys have been permitted to pass through the Rafah crossing. However, this does not constitute a significant humanitarian effort and does not match the level of political and diplomatic efforts that have been put forth.

Greta Gunnarsdottir, the director of UNRWA’s New York office, presented the statement.

Anger, despair, abandonment

According to Mr. Lazzarini, the people in Gaza are experiencing hunger, despair, and a sense of being abandoned, which is causing them to feel angry towards the international community. They are unable to understand why the global community is not taking action to protect and aid civilians as they witness the ongoing tragedy.

He was worried that their rage would eventually turn towards the UN and UNRWA. He also mentioned that in Gaza, the global community is mostly referred to as UNRWA. His coworkers have cautioned against a potential breakdown of civil order, stating that this would hinder ongoing operations and the arrival of convoys.

He also mentioned the “unrest occurring beyond the Gaza Strip”, with an unprecedented amount of violence in the West Bank, as well as conflicts and injuries along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Appeal for action now

Mr. Lazzarini urged for prompt consensus on pressing actions that require joint efforts, starting with strict compliance to global regulations on humanitarian aid. The safety of civilians and civilian structures, including humanitarian and United Nations establishments, must be safeguarded and the release of hostages is imperative.

He emphasized the importance of an urgent ceasefire for humanitarian purposes and the constant, secure delivery of aid.

The responsibility for overseeing the humanitarian efforts falls on UNRWA, but it is crucial to have sufficient funding, as the agency has consistently struggled with limited resources.

He stated, “It is crucial for Member States to take action and be brave in order to discover practical ways to maintain a steady and reliable UNRWA as the most valuable resource for the international community in this region.”

No going back

Mr. Lazzarini also looked ahead to what he referred to as “the day after” and the need for a political solution as “there is no going back to the pre-war status quo that fuelled the present disaster.”

He stated that it is crucial to stabilize the current situation and prevent it from escalating further by achieving a genuine prospect of Palestinian statehood and ensuring security for all individuals.