Under deadly Israeli attacks, Rafah faces ‘increasingly desperate’ situation: UN

May 22, 2024

Israeli attacks across Gaza continued Wednesday, fueling already alarming aid access problems and dire food insecurity as the main entrance routes for relief convoys remained closed or too dangerous to access, UN aid workers warned.

In a post on X, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) confirmed that food distribution had been suspended because of a lack of supplies and ongoing hostilities that have made it too dangerous for aid teams to work.

“The situation in Rafah has been significantly deteriorating since the initial evacuation orders were issued there on May 6,” UNRWA Spokesperson Louise Wateridge told UN News, a media website, on Wednesday.

“As this military operation has expanded further into Rafah, this has severely, severely restricted our ability and the wider humanitarian ability to provide aid, to provide services and in this case, to distribute food,” the spokesperson said.

“We now no longer have access to the food distribution centres in this area because of the active military operations, there is no safety and in addition to this, we are receiving no unimpeded access to aid through the crossings.”

Ms Wateridge stressed that “we have a lot of people on the ground ready to provide aid and provide services, but without access across the borders to any supplies and without access to our distribution centres, we are simply unable to distribute food.”

Those comments echoed an update to the Security Council by Tor Wennesland, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, on Monday.

“I am deeply concerned that the current trajectory – including the possibility of a larger-scale operation – will further undermine efforts to scale up the entry of humanitarian goods and their safe distribution to desperate civilians,” he said.

While welcoming the opening of the Erez West/Zikim crossing in northern Gaza, Wennesland stressed that “much more aid is needed to meet the enormous scale of the needs…There is no substitute for the full and increased operation of existing land crossings.”

“Saving lives and addressing the critical needs in Rafah and Gaza more broadly must remain our immediate priority and I reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a humanitarian ceasefire,” he added.

The UN official also highlighted the risks of a “wider spillover” regionally from the conflict as long as it remained unresolved, while on Wednesday, Ireland, Spain and Norway jointly announced that they intended to recognize a Palestinian state.

The diplomatic move to recognize Palestine, “effective May 28”, follows months of consultations “with like-minded countries across Europe and the Middle East”, the Irish Government said in a statement.

As of May 18, OCHA reported that only 10 bakeries were operational out of a total of 16 supported by the UN agency’s partners. “It is expected that these will run out of stock and fuel within days if no additional supplies are received,” Ms. Wosornu said. The remaining six bakeries – all in southern Gaza – had closed “due to either shortages of fuel or because of ongoing hostilities”.

According to UNRWA’s online aid tracking platform, no trucks have entered the main crossings into the enclave via Rafah and Kerem Shalom in the south since 27 vehicles made it through on Saturday.

At least 500 aid trucks are needed every day to keep Gazans healthy, humanitarians have said repeatedly, while also calling for relief supplies to flood into Gaza to try to halt the new crisis caused by the Israeli military’s incursion into Rafah on May 6, in response to deadly rocket fire by Hamas fighters.

While more than 5,600 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza in April via both crossings, only around 1,400 have made it so far in May, UNRWA data indicates.

The UN agency also noted that its health centres had not received any medical supplies in the last 10 days. Nonetheless, healthcare staff “continue to provide thousands of medical consultations each day at health centres that are still operational”, UNRWA said.

After more than seven months of heavy Israeli bombardment in response to Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel, nearly one in two Gazans – around 1.1 million people – face hunger levels so catastrophic that the UN has warned that many are on the brink of famine.

The latest casualty data from OCHA via the Gazan health authorities indicates that more than 35,000 people have now been killed in the violence and more than 79,000 injured. Around 17,000 children are unaccompanied or remain separated from their families.