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UN leaders, agencies welcome aid convoy's entry into Gaza but note it's far from enough

United Nations: United Nations leaders and agencies have welcomed the entry of a humanitarian aid convoy into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt but noted that it is only a small beginning, still far from enough and reiterated their appeal for an immediate ceasefire.

A 20-truck convoy of the Egyptian Red Crescent entered Gaza with humanitarian supplies, the first since the conflict began following attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel on October 7.

“I want to express my deep gratitude to Egypt in this regard. But the people of Gaza need a commitment for much, much more – a continuous delivery of aid to Gaza at the scale that is needed,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday.

“We are working nonstop with all parties that are relevant to make it happen,” he said in remarks at the Cairo Summit for Peace.

Five UN agencies – UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) – said the “first, but limited, shipment of life-saving humanitarian supplies” from the UN and the Egyptian Red Crescent that entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing, will provide an urgently needed lifeline to some of the hundreds of thousands of civilians, mostly women and children, cut off from water, food, medicine, fuel and other essentials.

“But it is only a small beginning and far from enough. More than 1.6 million people in Gaza are in critical need of humanitarian aid. Children, pregnant women and the elderly remain the most vulnerable. Nearly half of Gaza’s population are children,” the agencies said.

“Gaza was a desperate humanitarian situation before the most recent hostilities. It is now catastrophic. The world must do more,” they said.

The agencies added that with so much civilian infrastructure in Gaza damaged or destroyed in nearly two weeks of constant bombings, including shelters, health facilities, water, sanitation, and electrical systems, “time is running out” before mortality rates could skyrocket due to disease outbreaks and lack of health-care capacity.

They also noted that hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties. Civilians face mounting challenges in accessing essential food supplies, and health facilities no longer have fuel and are running on small amounts they have secured locally.

“These are expected to run out in the next day or so. Water production capacity is at 5 per cent of normal levels. Pre-positioned humanitarian supplies have already been depleted,” they said.

The agencies called for a humanitarian ceasefire, along with immediate, unrestricted humanitarian access throughout Gaza, allowing humanitarian actors to reach civilians in need, save lives and prevent further human suffering.

“Flows of humanitarian aid must be at scale and sustained and allow all Gazans to preserve their dignity,” the agencies said.

They also called for safe and sustained access to water, food, health – including sexual and reproductive health – and fuel necessary to enable essential services.

“We call for the protection of humanitarian workers in Gaza who are risking their lives in the service of others. And we call for the utmost respect of international humanitarian law by all parties,” the agencies said.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths welcomed the announcement that the aid convoy has entered Gaza, the first since the outbreak of hostilities on October 7.

The 20-truck convoy includes life-saving supplies provided by the Egyptian Red Crescent and the UN, which are approved to cross and be received by the Palestinian Red Crescent.

“The delivery follows days of deep and intense negotiations with all relevant sides to make sure that aid operation into Gaza resumes as quickly as possible and with the right conditions,” he said.

Griffiths expressed confidence that the delivery of aid will be the “start of a sustainable effort’ to provide essential supplies – including food, water, medicine and fuel – to the people of Gaza in a safe, dependable, unconditional and unimpeded manner.

“Two weeks since the start of hostilities, the humanitarian situation in Gaza – already precarious – has reached catastrophic levels. It is critical that aid reaches people in need wherever they are across Gaza and at the right scale,” he said.

Adding that the people of Gaza have endured decades of suffering, Griffiths said, “The international community cannot continue to fail them.” UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, thanked the Egyptian authorities for facilitating the entry of the first truckloads of aid into the Gaza Strip through Rafah.

“This is an important step that must not be the last. Aid needs to flow safely and continuously going forward. It is a war zone in Gaza, and the needs are immense. All of us can and must do more to save lives now,” he said.

Wennesland reiterated the secretary-general’s urgent appeal for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages and an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

The latest conflict was triggered by unprecedented attacks against Israel by Hamas militants on October 7. Israel has launched a massive counter-offensive against the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007. More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel in the deadly terror attack carried out by Hamas in the south of the Jewish state, and at least 210 were taken captive, a number that is likely to go further up as per official estimates.

Around 4,385 Palestinians are said to have been killed in Gaza in the Israeli offensive that followed.

(Published 22 October 2023, 03:19 IST)

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