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Gaza to face dire food, medicine shortages without ceasefire: UN official

Smoke billows following an Israeli airstrike on a house in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

A top official at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says Palestinians are facing growing shortages of vital commodities, including food, fuel, and medicine, in the Gaza Strip, adding that the already dire humanitarian situation in the besieged territory will dramatically worsen if Israel continues to bomb the enclave.

Matthias Schmale, the director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, made the remarks late on Tuesday, stressing that the most urgent problem was the displacement of Palestinians, including around 50,000 people, who have left their homes near the border between Gaza and the occupied territories due to fear of an Israeli ground invasion.

Schmale said Palestinian families who were seeking refuge from the violence were now taking shelters in 60 schools run by UNRWA.

“Parents here are mainly worried for the security of their children. People here say that they sleep in the same room with their children so that if they die in an airstrike, they will be together. This is what I hear from people. They are terrified and traumatized,” he said.

Schmale further said the sole power plant in Gaza had sufficient fuel for only six hours per day and many parts of the blockaded enclave had insufficient supplies of clean water due to a massive destruction of the infrastructure by Israeli airstrikes.

He said if the Gaza Strip’s border crossings remained closed, hospitals, which are already stretched to their limits, will run out of medicine and medical care will collapse.

The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has reported that only five trucks in a 24-vehicle humanitarian convoy had been able to enter southern Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which Israeli authorities closed only hours after reopening it.

Since last Monday, the Israeli regime has been conducting military strikes against Gaza. That started after resistance groups based in the enclave started launching hundreds of rockets into the occupied territories in response to Israeli violence against fellow Palestinians in the occupied lands.

So far, as many as 219 Palestinians, including 63 children and 36 women, have lost their lives in the Israeli strikes on Gaza, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.

Israel has waged three all-out wars against the territory so far, killing thousands of Palestinians each time.

Ceasefire needed to stave off disaster in Gaza: UNICEF chief

Separately on Tuesday, Henrietta Fore, the executive director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) called for an immediate ceasefire and aid access to “stave off disaster” in Gaza, as the Tel Aviv regime continued its deadly bombardment of the besieged enclave.

“Gaza’s one million children are reeling from the mounting consequences of violent conflict with nowhere safe to turn. Lives have been lost and families shattered,” Fore said.

The UNICEF chief further said nearly 30,000 children had been displaced in Gaza since May 10, adding that underscored the need for “an immediate cessation of hostilities on humanitarian grounds to allow the entry of staff and essential supplies, including fuel, medical items, first-aid kits and COVID-19 vaccines.”

Fore also appealed for the establishment of humanitarian corridors in order for the supplies to be delivered safely, and so that families can reunite and access essential services.

She said at least four health facilities and 40 schools had been damaged in Gaza since hostilities last week, adding that an estimated 250,000 children needed mental health and protection services.

The UN official said that electricity provision across Gaza had dropped by roughly 60 percent, leaving hospitals increasingly dependent on generators, which require significant amounts of fuel to function, emphasizing that “any reduction in health care capacity could also jeopardize treatment for those with COVID-19.”

Nearly half a million people in Gaza out of reach of humanitarian aid: Oxfam

Meanwhile, the international relief organization Oxfam has warned that nearly 450,000 people in Gaza need humanitarian assistance, urging the United States to halt arms sales to Israel and push for an immediate ceasefire instead.

Oxfam said in a press release on Wednesday that Washington was not doing enough to end the ongoing Israeli violence against Gaza, adding that it might even be further fueling the conflict with new arms sales to the Tel Aviv regime.

The administration of US President Joe Biden notified Congress on May 5 of its intent to sell Israel approximately $735 million in precision-guided munitions — the same weapons currently being used in its airstrikes in Gaza.

Oxfam warned that proceeding with that sale would send the wrong message to the warring parties at a time when a ceasefire is needed immediately.

“Make no mistake: if the US goes ahead with this arms sale to Israel, these weapons will undoubtedly be used in Gaza — either in this round of bloodshed or the next one,” Noah Gottschalk, leader of global policy for Oxfam America, said. “This sale will be seen as a ringing endorsement of ongoing military activity at a time when all US efforts should be focused on bringing an end to the violence.”

The US has already blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a joint statement calling for a ceasefire.

Oxfam said its staff were trying to resume emergency assistance and livelihood programs, but the shelling and bombardment was making it too dangerous for anyone to leave their homes, including humanitarian aid workers.

Shane Stevenson, another Oxfam official, also said it should be remembered that Gaza is in the midst of coping with the COVID pandemic, stressing that people need access to water and medicines and hospitals to halt the virus spread and “adding conflict on top of COVID feels like a recipe for disaster.”

UNRWA emergency appeal

The UNRWA has launched a flash appeal for $38 million to cover the most urgent needs of the people in Gaza and the West Bank, as violence continues in the occupied territories.

The funds sought would cover an initial 30-day emergency period, from the start of the crisis on May 10, and will support up to 50,000 people, seeking safety in some 50 designated emergency shelters.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Wednesday that he was shocked by the number of civilian lives already lost and infrastructure already destroyed in Gaza as well as the excessive use of force against protesters in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

“UNRWA has immediately stepped up an emergency humanitarian response and needs financial support to scale it up to the level of acute needs of the impacted populations,” he said.

The appeal calls for prioritizing immediate needs for food, health, and psycho-social support, amid the continuing bombardment of Gaza by Israel.

The appeal will also serve emergency needs in the West Bank, including the occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds, where tensions continue.

UNRWA also reiterated its call for the opening of the crossings to allow both humanitarian supplies and humanitarian workers to enter Gaza.

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