Sewage running in the streets of Gaza, UN warns, with just ‘crumbs’ of aid reaching besieged enclave

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Sewage is overflowing in the streets of Gaza and its population is facing the increasing threat of disease and hunger, the UN has warned, adding that the aid coming in amounts to “nothing more than crumbs.”

Israel ordered the “complete siege” of Gaza in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 terror attack that killed more than 1,400 people and saw some 200 people taken to Gaza as hostages. Frequent air strikes and a blockade of life-saving fuel have sparked increasingly dire warnings for the 2 million people trapped in the enclave.

“Food and water are running out. The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage. Gaza is on the brink of a massive health hazard as the risks of diseases are looming,” said Phillipe Lazzarini, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

“The last remaining public services are collapsing, our aid operation is crumbling and for the first time ever, [our staff] report that people are now hungry.”

Some aid trucks have been able to enter Gaza through Egypt since the crisis began but Lazzarini said the deliveries were doing little to address the Gazans’ needs.

While the initial aid deliveries have provided food, water and medicine, they have not included fuel, which the UN has said is “paralyzing” its aid operations. UNRWA officials said this week that without fuel, they would be unable to collect and distribute aid that reaches Gaza, warning they would be forced to “wind down” their relief efforts.

“We should avoid conveying the message that few trucks a day means the siege is lifted for humanitarian aid. This is not true,” Lazzarini added. “The current system in place is geared to fail. What is needed is meaningful and non-interrupted aid flow.”

A total of 74 trucks have entered the strip since humanitarian aid transfers resumed several days ago, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said Thursday. Eight more trucks were expected Friday, the UN said, adding that previously 450 trucks were going in each day.

Lazzarini criticized Israel’s questioning that aid would be used solely for civilians, stressing that UNRWA has strict vetting mechanisms in place. “It pains me that humanitarian aid, a very basic right for people, is constantly questioned while at the same time despair is live streamed under our watch,” he said.

“All our vendors and partners are vetted against the sanctions list. We give aid to those who need it most. Our convoys and their routes are notified and deconflicted,” he said. “UNRWA does not and will not divert any humanitarian aid into the wrong hands.”

A 10-person team of medical staff and experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also crossed into Gaza Friday, the organization said in a statement, warning that “the humanitarian catastrophe is deepening by the hour.” The ICRC said it had enough equipment to treat several thousand wounded people and enough water purification supplies to treat 50,000 liters of water.

Finding the right words

The deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza has sparked huge international concern but, nearly three weeks since the outbreak of violence, the world has so far failed to unite around a common position on the crisis.

European leaders have stopped short of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, instead appealing for humanitarian “pauses” to provide aid, which have killed more than 7,000 people in Gaza since October 7, according to figures released Thursday by the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.

The health ministry on Thursday published a 212-page report more than 6,000 names describes as “documented deaths since October 7” in Gaza. The ministry blamed the deaths on Israel’s “military aggression,” after Israel, along with the United States, expressed doubts about the casualty numbers being reported out of Gaza, without providing evidence that they are exaggerated. The list of 6,747 names gives the sex, age and identity card number of each of the victims.

The European Union communique, released after meetings Thursday in Brussels, follows several failed attempts by the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on the Israel-Hamas war, with member states preparing to vote on another draft resolution – this time put forward by Jordan on behalf of Arab states – on Friday.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told diplomats gathered at the United Nations Assembly Hall that “collective punishment is not self-defense.” The resolution calls for a “cessation of hostilities,” the release of hostages, and the rejection of “any attempts at forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population.”

Israel has rebuffed calls for a pause to the fighting, as it seeks to “destroy” Hamas and prevent it from launching further attacks on Israeli soil. Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan on Thursday said requests for a ceasefire were “not an attempt for peace,” but “an attempt to tie Israel’s hands, preventing us from eliminating a huge threat to our citizens.”

“Israel is not at war with human beings, we are at war with monsters,” he added, saying, “our goal is to completely eradicate Hamas’s capability and we will use every means at our disposal to accomplish this.”

His comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel’s forces are preparing for the “next stages” in its war against Hamas, which is widely expected to come in the form of a ground incursion.

“The maneuvering will begin when the conditions are right. These conditions are complex because so is the campaign. The troops are ready,” Gallant said in a briefing in Tel Aviv.

For a second night, Israel’s military conducted “targeted raids” in northern Gaza overnight on Friday after vowing to continue ground raids over the coming days.

The raids included aircraft and artillery strikes in the area of Shaja’iyah, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. Video published by the IDF showed tanks and armored vehicles moving on a road near agricultural land as well as strikes on buildings and open areas.

The incursions are intended to kill Hamas militants, lay the foundations for an all-out invasion and neutralize explosive devices and reconnaissance posts, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Thursday.

Meanwhile, six people were injured when a rocket struck the Red Sea resort city of Taba, in Egypt, early on Friday, according to official sources cited by Egypt-affiliated Al-Qahera News.

The rocket hit an ambulance building and a residential area of the hospital’s administration in the city, which shares its border with Israel. It is unclear yet who fired the rocket.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing Friday that Israel will cooperate with Egypt and the US to “tighten the defense in the region against threats from the Red Sea area.” Hagari said an aerial “threat” had been detected in the Red Sea area, which he said he believed was the cause of the strike in Egypt.

This story is developing and is being updated.

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