16 Jun 2024, 19:55

UN welcomes Israel announcement of Gaza 'pauses' for aid deliveries

GENEVA, June 16, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - The UN on Sunday welcomed an Israeli decision to "pause" fighting around a south Gaza route daily for aid deliveries, but urged more "concrete measures" to unblock the humanitarian response.

Israel's military announced Sunday a "local, tactical pause of military activity" during daylight hours in an area of Rafah to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the war-torn Palestinian territory.

"We welcome this announcement," UN aid agency OCHA's spokesman Jens Laerke said in an email to AFP, noting though that "this has yet to translate into more aid reaching people in need".

"We hope this leads to further concrete measures by Israel to address longstanding issues preventing a meaningful humanitarian response in Gaza."

UN agencies and aid groups have repeatedly sounded the alarm of dire shortages of food and other essentials in the Gaza Strip, exacerbated by overland access restrictions and the closure of the key Rafah crossing with Egypt since Israeli forces seized it in early May.

Israel has long defended its efforts to let aid into Gaza including via its Kerem Shalom border near Rafah, blaming militants for looting supplies and humanitarian workers for failing to distribute them to civilians.

- 'Catastrophic hunger' -

"The UN and our humanitarian partners are ready to engage with all parties to ensure life-saving assistance reaches those in need across Gaza, where catastrophic hunger is widespread," Laerke said.

"Living conditions for affected and displaced families in Gaza are dire. They urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter, and healthcare, with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks."

The UN was insisting, he said, that "humanitarian operations in Gaza must be fully facilitated, and all impediments must be lifted".

"We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza."

Laerke said that meant ensuring the movement of aid within Gaza, including through checkpoints, "is predictable and expedited".

"It means all roads are operational. It means allowing the regular entry of fuel, which is in critically short supply in Gaza. It means providing the necessary communications equipment and logistical materials, which have long been denied by Israeli authorities," he said.

"And importantly, the issue of rule of law must be addressed immediately," he said, warning that "desperation and scarcity of aid have led to a near-total breakdown in law and order" in Gaza.

Gaza's deadliest war erupted with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack inside Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,296 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.