At least 11 United Nations employees have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since the weekend, the UN said Wednesday, even as it called for emergency funding to continue humanitarian work in the embattled Palestinian enclave.
The UN staffers who were killed paid “the ultimate price,” Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a brief statement to press on Wednesday.
Among the dead are five teachers, a gynecologist, an engineer, a psychological counselor and three support staff, according to Jenifer Austin, UNRWA’s Deputy Director in Gaza, who added that some were “killed in their homes with their families.”
Thirty students at UN schools have also been killed, the organization said.
Gaza has been hammered by Israeli airstrikes for days, in response to a surprise attack launched by Hamas over the weekend that killed at least 1,200 people in Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces says it is targeting Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave. But the dense population of Gaza – 2 million people living in 140 square miles – means that civilians are often caught in the crossfire. Air strikes have so far killed 1,100 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health authorities.
Heightening humanitarian concerns is the Israel’s government’s order for a “complete siege” of Gaza, closing off access to electricity, food, fuel and water. The area’s only power station ran out of fuel on Wednesday.
US and Israeli officials are working to figure out a potential humanitarian corridor that would allow civilians to leave and humanitarian supplies to enter – a step that the UN says is already overdue.
“Crucial life-saving supplies – including fuel, food and water – must be allowed into Gaza. We need rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access now,” Guterres said.
In the meantime, UN staffers are working 24 hour days as dozens of UN-operated schools provide shelter for civilians fleeing the bombardment. In total, 220,000 people are seeking refuge from air strikes, according to the organization.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said Wednesday that it has only enough money to continue its work until the end of the month, and is “urgently seeking” $104 million in new funding.
Asked whether Gazans should use an eventual humanitarian corridor to flee the area, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said safe shelter for civilians within Gaza was the priority.
“Civilians need to be protected. We do not want to see a mass exodus of Gazans and many of them have already been displaced from other parts,” he said.
The UN’s powerful Security Council will meet on Friday afternoon to discuss the situation in Israel and Gaza.