The United Nations relief agency says thousands of Palestinians, desperate due to three weeks of total siege and bombing, broke into several of its warehouses in the Gaza Strip, taking wheat, flour and other basic goods.
“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege,” said Thomas White, director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in Gaza.
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday repeated appeals to end the bloodshed and agree on a ceasefire to end the “nightmare”.
“The situation in Gaza is growing more desperate by the hour. I regret that instead of a critically needed humanitarian pause, supported by the international community, Israel has intensified its military operations,” Guterres said.
Israel imposed a total siege – no food, water, electricity – on the Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million people in the wake of the Hamas attack in Israel. Israel has allowed limited supplies of basic necessities and medicines. Efforts are under way to get more supply of food, water, fuel and medicine in the enclave that has been under intense bombing since October 7.
Toll crosses 8,000
Gaza’s Health Ministry said the death toll among Palestinians has crossed 8,000 – most of them women and minors – as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a “second stage” in the war after tanks and infantry pushed into Gaza over the weekend.
The bombardment over the weekend – described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war – knocked out communications in the territory late on Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world. Communications were restored to much of Gaza early on Sunday.
The Israeli military said on Sunday it had struck more than 450 targets over the past 24 hours, including Hamas command centres, observation posts and antitank missile launching positions. It said more ground forces were sent into Gaza overnight.
‘Meagre and inconsistent aid’
UNRWA provides necessities in Gaza, and many of the displaced Palestinians are sheltering in UNRWA schools. Several hospitals have shut down and others are on the verge of closing down due to a lack of fuel.
“Supplies on the market are running out while the humanitarian aid coming into the Gaza Strip on trucks from Egypt is insufficient,” UNRWA said.
“The needs of the communities are immense, if only for basic survival, while the aid we receive is meagre and inconsistent.”
Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the agency, said the crowds broke into a total of four facilities on Saturday. She said the warehouses did not contain any fuel, which has been in critically short supply since Israel cut off all shipments after the start of the war.
One of the warehouses pillaged is located in Deir el-Balah, where UNRWA stores supplies from the humanitarian convoys crossing into Gaza from Egypt.
White, the UNRWA chief, said the massive displacement of people has placed enormous pressure on the host communities. “Some families,” he said, “received up to 50 relatives taking shelter in one household.”
“The current system of convoys is geared to fail. Very few trucks, slow processes, strict inspections, supplies that do not match the requirements of UNRWA and the other aid organisations, and mostly the ongoing ban on fuel, are all a recipe for a failed system,” he added.
UNRWA has said its ability to help people in Gaza has been completely stretched by air raids that have killed more than 50 of its staff and restricted the movement of supplies.
More than 613,000 of 1.4 million internally displaced people in Gaza are sheltering in 150 UNRWA facilities across the blockaded territory.
But severe overcrowding, a lack of privacy and inadequate sanitation have put these schools at risk of a prolonged and severe public health crisis, adding pressure to the already overloaded healthcare system which doctors and the Ministry of Health describe as being in a state of total collapse.
The UN agency said some shelters are currently hosting 10 to 12 times more people than their capacity.