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Homenews‘Hunger and despair’: UN agency deplores Gaza conditions, child casualties

‘Hunger and despair’: UN agency deplores Gaza conditions, child casualties

An urgent ceasefire is a matter of life and death for millions in the Gaza Strip, an official warned at a United Nations Security Council emergency briefing, noting climbing child casualties as Israel continues to bombard the enclave.

Palestinians in Gaza are facing a life-or-death crisis aggravated by the struggle to deliver aid to the Strip’s more than two million inhabitants, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), at the meeting on Monday.

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“The level of destruction is unprecedented, the human tragedy unfolding under our watch is unbearable,” the official said. “The current siege imposed on Gaza is collective punishment.”

More than half a million Palestinians forced from their homes due to Israel’s bombing campaign, continuing for three weeks, are now sheltering in crammed UNRWA schools and buildings, with scarce food and water and often nowhere to sleep, he reported.

“Hunger and despair are turning into anger against the international community,” Lazzarini said, adding that the meagre aid allowed in through Egypt starting last week was nowhere near sufficient.

Israel began allowing limited aid into Gaza on October 21, but in-depth inspections of each convoy have caused lengthy delays. Israel has also categorically refused to allow fuel to be shipped in, leaving the enclave’s few operational hospitals at risk of closure.

‘Last remaining lifeline’

On Sunday, Palestinians, desperate due to continued blockade and bombing, broke into UN warehouses, taking wheat, flour, and other basic survival goods.

“A further breakdown in civil order will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the largest UN agency in Gaza to continue operating, “ Lazzarini warned the UNSC assembly.

“I say this while being fully aware that UNRWA is the last remaining lifeline for the Palestinian people in Gaza,” he added.

To increase the flow of much-needed aid, UN officials have urged Israel to open up Karem Abu Salem, known as Kerem Shalom to Israelis, border crossing with Gaza, saying it is the only passage equipped to take in enough trucks. Israel has so far refused to open any of its crossing points with the enclave, on which it has imposed a land, air, and sea blockade for 16 years.

‘This cannot be collateral damage’

UN officials also emphasised the skyrocketing casualties in Gaza, particularly among children, a toll unparalleled by even the most bloody contemporary conflicts.

“More than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza each day — a number which should shake each of us to our core,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Lazzarini added: “This surpasses the number of children killed annually across the world’s conflict zones since 2019,” stressing, “This cannot be ‘collateral damage’.”

Israel has warned that even greater danger looms as it intensifies a ground offensive into the enclave. It has ordered people in Gaza to evacuate to the southern part of the territory or risk being treated as “terrorist accomplices”.

However, Palestinians in Gaza have not found safety in the south either, where Israel has continued to bomb homes.

“I have said many times, and I will say it again ‘no place is safe in Gaza’,” said Lazzarini.

His plea to the UNSC came after the body failed to pass four separate resolutions calling for a ceasefire or “humanitarian pauses”. One was vetoed by the United States, and another by Russia and China. The others failed to get the minimum nine votes.

On Friday, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce, but its resolution is non-binding. The US and Israel were among 14 countries to vote against the resolution.

The emergency summit also voiced concern over the prospect that the war in Gaza risks spiralling into a broader regional conflagration.

Geir Pedersen, the UN’s special envoy to Syria,” said spillover into Syria had already begun and raised “a terrifying prospect of a potential wider escalation”.

Israel has conducted numerous air raids in Syria and Lebanon as well since its war with Hamas broke out three weeks ago, striking at critical military infrastructure and airports.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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