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UN Aid Operation in Gaza in Tatters

The United Nations humanitarian chief said Thursday that Israel’s military offensive in the southern Gaza Strip is “a repeat” of the assault on northern Gaza and has left no place safe for civilians while crippling humanitarian operations.

“We do not have a humanitarian operation in southern Gaza that can be called by that name anymore,” Martin Griffiths told reporters at the United Nations in Geneva and online. He said it has become a plan of “humanitarian opportunism” — getting in aid when and where they can.

“It’s erratic, it’s undependable, and frankly, it’s not sustainable,” he said, adding that the United Nations and humanitarian organizations would not abandon the people of Gaza.

Israel ramped up its military activity in southern Gaza on December 1, following the collapse of a seven-day humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas, saying the leaders of the Hamas terror organization are hiding there.

Since then, aid deliveries have significantly dropped off. The U.N. says only 80 trucks with humanitarian supplies and 69,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza on Wednesday through the Rafah border crossing.

Guterres raises alarm

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday took the very rare step of invoking Article 99 of the organization’s charter and referring the matter to the Security Council. It is the first time in his nearly seven-year crisis-plagued tenure that he has invoked the clause.

The council has been meeting on Gaza weekly since Hamas’ October 7 terror attack. The attack inside Israel killed some 1,200 people; 240 others were abducted. More than 100 hostages have since been released. The attack prompted Israel’s full-scale war to destroy the terrorist organization and its leadership.

Guterres has now further raised the alarm and pressured the council to take meaningful action. In his letter, Guterres told the council president that the current conditions on the ground make it “impossible” for significant humanitarian operations to be carried out, and he renewed his call for a humanitarian cease-fire.

“We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system,” he warned. “The situation is fast deteriorating into catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region.”

For weeks, humanitarians have been urging Israel to reopen another crossing point into Gaza, and Griffiths said there are “some promising signs” that Kerem Shalom, which is east of Rafah, could open soon. That would allow for scaled-up capacity and direct access to northern Gaza, where needs are acute.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson sounded less optimistic Wednesday, telling reporters in New York that the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings were attacked by Hamas on October 7.

“Both of them are under continuous fire by Hamas with mortars and rockets at this time,” the spokesperson said. “And that’s why we are also limited on what can be done at the crossings.”

The Security Council will meet again Friday to discuss the situation, be briefed by Guterres, and possibly vote on an Arab-drafted resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, the release of all hostages, and aid access.

A delegation of foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim countries was in Washington on Thursday to meet members of Congress and the Biden administration. Saudi Arabia’s U.N. ambassador said they would also press for U.S. support at the Security Council.

Dire conditions

Humanitarians say they are running out of solutions for the people of Gaza. In a call with reporters, representatives from several international aid agencies said a permanent cease-fire is the only way to prevent the further loss of civilian lives, especially of children.

“We need a definitive cease-fire and the necessary conditions for a humanitarian response,” said Alexandra Saieh, head of humanitarian policy and advocacy for Save the Children. “If they are not put in place, more children’s lives will be the cost.”

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says more than 16,000 Palestinians have been killed; about 70% of them are reported to be women and children. Thousands more have been wounded.

Humanitarian groups say Israel’s evacuation notices telling civilians to move from one area of the south to another are creating panic.

“People don’t know where to go,” said Isabelle Defourny, president of Doctors Without Borders France. “Those notifications don’t spare civilians; it’s a cruel system. They cannot really leave without a cease-fire.”

They also dispute how safe the so-called safe zones are. Several have come under intense bombing.

“Israel’s safe zones within Gaza are a mirage,” said Oxfam’s Palestinian policy lead Bushra Khalidi. “They are unprotected, they are not provisioned, and they are inaccessible.”

Health care in Gaza is collapsing by the day. The United Nations says only 14 out of 36 hospitals across Gaza remain open to provide limited services. Only two small hospitals in the north and 12 in the south are reported to be able to admit new patients.

“Gaza’s hospitals are becoming morgues before our very eyes. That is unacceptable,” said Sandrine Simon, Medecins du Monde’s advocacy and health director.

The situation has become so desperate in the south that one humanitarian worker told reporters that her colleagues on the ground are worried people will attack houses that have bathrooms.

The World Food Program warned this week that the renewed fighting makes the distribution of aid almost impossible and endangers the lives of humanitarian workers.

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