April 17, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Gaza is in desperate need of more aid but agencies cannot cope with the situation

Gaza is in desperate need of more aid but agencies cannot cope with the situation

The images were scorching. Children dig in the dirt, collect handfuls of spilled flour and put them in their pockets.

Aid trucks are surrounded by angry crowds, mostly young men, who attack drivers and flee with whatever they can carry.

The young woman, Maryam Abd Rabbo, tried to maintain her composure but ultimately failed when she answered a journalist's questions about the daily struggle to survive.

Northern Gaza is almost completely isolated from the outside world. The population, estimated at about 300,000 people, has turned into a brutal existence in a world where there are almost no shops and aid never arrives.

Meanwhile, the south is crowded with displaced people, with hundreds of thousands of people constantly on the move in search of food, shelter and safety.

Israel says it is doing what it can to reduce civilian suffering, but four and a half months of continuous military offensive has left the Gaza Strip on its knees, with relief agencies unable to deal with the situation.

“Every time you go back, it gets worse,” Jamie McGoldrick, the interim UN coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said on Friday.

Having just returned from his last visit to the Gaza Strip, he found despair widespread.

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Palestinians carry bags of flour from an aid truck in Gaza City

“People feel as if this is the end of their journey.”

At the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip, between 1.2 and 1.5 million people are crammed into every available space in and around the city of Rafah.

Nearby, in the sandy coastal area known as Al-Mawasi, which Israel has designated as a humanitarian safe zone, at least 250,000 people now live in flimsy housing with little support.

Doctors working for British medical charity UK-Med have seen a tent city spring up around them.

“Two weeks ago, there were one or two tents spread out along the seashore,” David Whitwick, chief executive of UK-Med, told me over a blurry line from his base in Al Mawasi.

“They are now six tents deep.”

A few miles south is the crossing point that Israelis call Kerem Shalom (Karem Abu Salem in Arabic), where almost all aid destined for the Gaza Strip enters, after comprehensive Israeli inspections.

In a holding area on the Palestinian side, aid is unloaded and reloaded onto local trucks for distribution throughout Gaza.

The trucks travel a three-kilometre-long corridor to the “Blue Gate” in Rafah, before entering Gaza.

But the collapse of security in Gaza means the journey will never begin for some aid.

Trucks are attacked and looted inside the corridor.

Most of the looting is carried out by organized Palestinian gangs, with donkey carts and chariots waiting across the fence, and monitors reporting the arrival of aid.

But for those trucks lucky enough to make it to the Blue Gate, the problems are just beginning. Much of what happens next is opportunistic and often violent.

“Many of these trucks, even before they reach 200 metres, are stopped by cars, attacked and looted,” McGoldrick said.

With only a few routes available to deliver aid, and most convoys traveling in the early hours of the day, the UN says people are using social media to alert each other about convoy movement, allowing roadblocks and ambushes to be set up in advance.

Image source, DPA/Alami

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A truck loaded with German aid enters Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing

“People know when we're coming,” McGoldrick said.

The envoy said he saw trucks with smashed windows and rear mirrors. He said he spoke to traumatized drivers who had axes thrown at their windshields and were shot at.

Instead of reaching UN warehouses and being distributed in an organized manner, aid often ends up being sold on street markets at wildly inflated prices that few people can afford.

After a World Food Program truck came under fire on February 6 (the UN blamed Israeli naval fire), the World Food Program suspended all aid deliveries to the north.

Attempts to resume deliveries collapsed this week amid scenes of violent looting.

The United Nations says it has contacted Israel about opening supply routes from the north, but discussions are still at an early stage.

The hope – a slim one at the moment – is to reduce incentives for looting by dramatically increasing the amounts of food and other basic goods entering Gaza.

“We need to flood the North with aid, so it doesn't become a product that people want to use for extortion purposes or on the black market,” McGoldrick said.

For its part, Israel says it is doing everything it can to facilitate the arrival of humanitarian aid.

“We are doing everything we can… to limit any harmful consequences of the war [to] “The civilian population,” Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of the military coordination and liaison department in Gaza, told reporters at a news conference this week.

The army said on Friday that more than 13,000 trucks carrying more than 250,000 tons of humanitarian aid have entered the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the war.

That means just over 90 trucks a day, far short of the 500 that UN staff say is needed to meet the growing needs of a hungry, sick and frequently displaced population.

Israel says problems with aid distribution are not of its making, even though the chaos inside the Gaza Strip is a direct result of its military offensive.

“Unfortunately, today and yesterday, the United Nations did not show up for work,” Colonel Tetro said.

He added that the delay on the Palestinian side leads to the accumulation of trucks waiting to enter Gaza.

He added: “The United Nations must increase its capabilities inside Gaza.”

But in recent weeks, the security situation has deteriorated further due to a series of Israeli attacks on civilian police officers.

According to David Satterfield, the Biden administration's humanitarian envoy, such attacks have made it “almost impossible” to distribute aid safely.

As for the United Nations, Israel's calls to make more efforts seem hollow.

The Israeli government has embarked on a campaign to dismantle UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for assisting Palestinian refugees, following allegations that up to 12% of UNRWA's 13,000 staff in Gaza were also working for Hamas, some of whom even participated in deadly attacks on Gaza. . October 7.

The United Nations says it is investigating, but Israel has not yet shared its intelligence.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government has already begun stripping UNRWA of its functions.

Responsibility for 29,000 metric tons of flour from USAID, currently stored in the Israeli port of Ashdod, has already been transferred to the World Food Programme.

In a somber message to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, UNRWA Director Philippe Lazzarini said the agency had reached a “breaking point” and a number of measures were being taken by the Israeli government to hamper its work, including limiting visas for international staff, blocking UNRWA’s bank account and suspending the shipment of goods. UNRWA.

Although the situation is bad at the moment, the idea of ​​an all-out Israeli attack on Rafah, which the government is threatening to do if the Israeli hostages are not released before the start of Ramadan on March 10, raises fears among aid workers that the worst could come. is what might happen. Will come.

UK-Med's David Whitwick has already caught a glimpse.

When he drove to Khan Yunis to remove a medical team from Nasser Hospital, he found himself surrounded by crowds of desperate people.

“The possibility of this happening in Rafah and Al-Mawasi, where there are hundreds of thousands of people, is not something I think you really want to think about,” he told me.

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