U.N. humanitarian officials warned on Friday of an increasingly dire situation in the Gaza Strip, with aid operations all but incapacitated by the intensifying fighting in the south and civil order breaking down.
As the Security Council prepared for a vote over a demand for a cease-fire, relief workers in southern Gaza were anxiously seeking more aid. Israel’s increasing airstrikes and ground operations in the south have made relief efforts erratic and undependable, the United Nations says, and the enclave is suffering shortages of food, water and medicine.
“With constant bombardment, low and irregular flow of food and other humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip compared to the immense needs of displaced people in our overcrowded shelters and outside, UNRWA’s ability to assist and protect people is reducing fast,” Philippe Lazzarini, the head of U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, said in statement.
He said he had written to the General Assembly’s president to relay that the agency’s “ability to continue delivering its mandate in Gaza has now become very limited.”
Aid workers describe the public’s growing desperation for food, with one U.N. official saying that convoys had been looted and U.N. vehicles stoned.
The streets “feel wild, particularly after dark,” Thomas White, the Gaza director of UNRWA said on social media on Friday, adding that “society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.”
The Security Council is meeting for a vote on Friday on the situation after António Guterres, the secretary-general, called on the body to declare an immediate cease-fire. He did so by invoking a rarely used tool in the United Nations Charter that empowers the leader of the U.N. to recommend action to the Security Council.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Thursday that Israel would allow a “minimal” supply of additional fuel “to prevent a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics,” without specifying when it would be delivered. Col. Elad Goren, an Israeli military official, told reporters on Thursday that Israel was discussing the quantity of the supply with U.N. agencies, but that it needed a “mechanism” to ensure that the fuel would not go to Hamas.
Israel has severely restricted the flow of fuel into Gaza for fear that it would be diverted for military use by Hamas, the armed group that controls the strip. The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said on Thursday that its ambulance center in northern Gaza had been forced to stop transporting the injured because of a lack of fuel.
Since the fighting resumed a week ago after a brief cease-fire, Israel’s airstrikes and ground operations have expanded to the southern half of Gaza, displacing many civilians who had been sheltering there after fleeing the north early in the war.
Even in southern Gaza, where there has been more access to relief supplies during the war, more than eight out of 10 households are taking extreme measures to cope with food shortages, the World Food Program said this week in an assessment that was based on a survey carried out during the pause in fighting. In the northern half of the enclave, 97 percent of households are taking such steps, it said.
Edward Wong and Yara Bayoumy contributed reporting.