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UN agency warns humanitarian operations in Gaza on verge of total collapse

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Picture: Khaled Desouki / AFP / Taken October 20, 2023 – A man waves a Palestinian flag while marching past the headquarters of the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party along Talaat Harb Street in the centre of Cairo on October 20, 2023 during a protest supporting the Palestinian people following Friday Noon prayers, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

By Jon Queally

“Without fuel, there will be no water, no functioning hospitals and bakeries. Without fuel, aid will not reach those in desperate need. Without fuel, there will be no humanitarian assistance.” UNRWA“

The UN agency responsible for humanitarian aid and protections in the occupied Gaza Strip — battered relentlessly by Israeli airstrikes for the past two weeks — said Sunday that if fuel supplies are not restored within a matter of days, its operations will collapse entirely.

“In three days, UNRWA will run out of fuel, critical for our humanitarian response across the Gaza Strip,” said Philippe Lazzarini, the Commissioner-General of the United Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

“Without fuel, there will be no water, no functioning hospitals and bakeries,” Lazzarini continued. “Without fuel, aid will not reach those in desperate need. Without fuel, there will be no humanitarian assistance. No fuel will further strangle the children, women, and people of Gaza.”

Noting that the UNRWA runs the largest humanitarian operation in the Gaza Strip, he said that without fuel, “we will fail the people of Gaza whose needs are growing by the hour, under our watch”.

Following the first “totally insufficient” convoy of aid trucks allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt on Saturday, another 17 trucks were permitted Sunday. Neither of the deliveries contained fuel, which medical personnel on the ground have said is vital if the health system is to remain capable of keeping the wounded and sick alive.

With Israeli officials saying the bombardment is set to intensify, not lessen, a global demand for a cease-fire has gone unheeded by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and its powerful allies, including the United States.

With large demonstrations in numerous US and European cities over the weekend delivering the same message for a cease-fire also ringing out across the Middle East and beyond, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday called for a stop in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza alongside a much larger delivery of aid.

“We must act now to end the nightmare,” Guterres said at the so-called Peace Summit in Cairo, Egypt.

Despite US President Joe Biden’s continued backing of Israeli policy, including its bombardment of Gaza which legal scholars have said may amount to genocide — a poll last week showed two-thirds of US voters back the call for a cease-fire.

As the civilian death toll continues to mount — with the latest weekend figures from the Gaza Ministry of Health putting the number killed at more than 4,600, nearly half of them children, and more than three times that wounded — UNRWA confirmed earlier on Saturday that 29 of its own staffers and volunteers, half of them schoolteachers, have been killed since the Israel bombing campaign began on October 7.

“We are in shock and mourning,” the agency said in a social media post. “As an Agency, we are devastated. We are grieving with each other and with the families.”

In his statement on Sunday, Lazzarini called on “all parties and those with influence over them to immediately allow fuel supplies into the Gaza Strip and to ensure that fuel is strictly used to prevent a collapse of the humanitarian response.”

Jon Queally is managing editor of Common Dreams.

This article was first published on Common Dreams