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UNRWA calls for Gaza ceasefire and access for humanitarian aid

The Director of Human Resources of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) appeals for safe delivery of aid to besieged Gaza, and warns that ongoing attacks will deepen divides and exacerbate polarization, undermining peace and stability in the region with global consequences.

By Linda Bordoni

As Israel continues to expand its military assault deeper into the northern Gaza Strip, the UN and medical staff express fears over airstrikes hitting closer to hospitals, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.

The Palestinian death toll since Israel launched retaliatory attacks on Hamas infrastructure in Gaza on 7 October exceeds 8,000.

The overwhelming majority of those killed are civilians. They include elderly people, disabled people, women and children who account for almost 3,000 of those deaths. 

Meanwhile, relief workers, who are also suffering major losses, said the largest convoy of humanitarian aid to arrive in Gaza still fell far short of needs and are calling for an urgent ceasefire.

Destruction in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

Destruction in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip

Aid workers killed

Lamenting the fact that since Saturday, 28 October, most contact was lost with UNRWA teams in the Gaza Strip, UNRWA’s HR Director in neighbouring Jordan, confirmed that at least 53 colleagues are confirmed casualties, “which is more than the entire death toll of colleagues during the 10-years of the Syrian war.”

“53 UNRWA members are confirmed casualties.”

“They are mothers and fathers, teachers, gynaecologists, doctors,” Brusa said expressing fear that the number may have increased given the continuing heavy bombardments.

What’s more, he said, speaking on Saturday, the breaks in communications are making the work of humanitarian operators who are trying to respond to the needs of more than 600,000 displaced people, extremely challenging.

“The UN,” Brusa said, “continues to engage in dialogue with the Israeli authorities through the regular channels,” and continues to appeal for permission to deliver urgently needed commodities.

donkey-drawn carts loaded with water tanks for sale as drinking water and fuel run out in Gaza

donkey-drawn carts loaded with water tanks for sale as drinking water and fuel run out in Gaza

Urgent need for fuel 

Fuel, he explained, remains the most urgently needed supply “for trucks to receive and distribute aid, for bakeries, hospitals, water desalination.”

He explained that UNRWA has rationed to the maximum its use of fuel to enable it to stretch its last remaining supply for another day or two, but warned that it will be forced to make a very tough decision to significantly reduce its operation and, in some places to totally bring them to a halt if fuel is not supplied.

Noting that UNRWA supports 50 bakeries, many of which have been bombed, it is trying in cooperation with WFP to provide bread to the 150 UNRWA shelters where more than 600,000 displaced people have sought refuge, Brusa said that “as we are not able to have fuel in the cars to drive the flour to the bakeries, nor give them fuel, the distribution of bread is also likely to stop.”

The lack of fuel, he underscored, is severely undermining the possibility of providing all humanitarian support.

Appeal for safe humanitarian access

“UNRWA also continues to call for a full lift of the siege and for humanitarian access to be safe, unimpeded, continuous and regular,” Brusa said.

Noting that the number of internally displaced people has now increased dramatically, he said it is four times higher than what UNRWA originally planned as part of its crisis response before the war started.

“The shelters are overcrowded, they lack privacy and sanitation,” he continued saying that for example “in the Rafah logistics base, where more than 8,000 people have sought shelter, 400 people are sharing one toilet.”

“Displaced people live in unsanitary conditions due to overcrowding and lack of clean water. This poses a serious risk to public health and the spread of diseases.”

Reiterating that hospitals, schools, places of worship, people’s homes, shops and sources of livelihood have all come under attack, Brusa said “No place is safe in Gaza.”

Destroyed buildings in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip

Destroyed buildings in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip

Three priorities

He spelt out three urgent priorities:

1 – Lift the siege on Gaza and allow safe, uninterrupted, and regular humanitarian access to deliver assistance to people in need, wherever they are, across the Gaza Strip.

2 – Allow urgent deliveries of fuel to the Gaza Strip, critical for UNRWA operations, bakeries, water stations and medical facilities.

3 – Reach a humanitarian ceasefire to spare more lives from being lost, and protect civilians everywhere, civilian infrastructure and UN facilities.

As of today, there are about one-half million people displaced in Gaza and nearly 630000 of those are in Unrwa shelters.

Brusa was at pains to highlight how most shelters are trying to function at least 25 times their capacity.

“There are still about 300 to 400 thousand people left in the north and we need to be able to deliver assistance to wherever the people who are in need are living,” he said, pointing out that “Civilians in Gaza have paid a tremendous price with over a million displaced, neighbourhoods destroyed and thousands of casualties.”

“Civilians in Gaza have paid a tremendous price.”

Regional and global consequences

The longer this war goes on, Brusa concluded, “the deeper the divides are going to be and the more polarization we are going to have.”

“This will further push away from peace and stability in the region, with regional and global consequences.”

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