UNITED NATIONS - The head of the U.N. agency that assists Palestinians, UNRWA, said Thursday that as fuel runs out in the Gaza Strip, humanitarians will not be able to continue assisting Palestinians there.
'I do believe there is a deliberate attempt to strangle our operation and paralyze UNRWA operations,' Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Geneva.
He said UNRWA has pleaded for fuel for weeks and only received half a truck's worth on Wednesday.
UNRWA said the 23,000 liters came with restrictions from Israeli authorities that it could be used only for the agency's aid trucks.
Israel has prohibited the import of fuel into Gaza, saying it will be diverted by Hamas for its war machine. Its military has been fighting Hamas since the group carried out a brutal and deadly terror attack inside Israel on October 7. The U.S.-designated terror group controls the Gaza Strip.
Vehicles of the International Red Cross carrying aid prepare to cross into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Nov. 15, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.
'Clearly, if the issue of fuel is not addressed, we run the risk of having to suspend the entire humanitarian operation,' Lazzarini said, adding that it is 'outrageous' that humanitarian agencies must beg for fuel.
UNRWA said there will be no movement of aid convoys on Friday through the Rafah crossing with Egypt because of the latest telecommunications blackout.
'The communications network in Gaza is down because there is no fuel, and this makes it impossible to manage or coordinate humanitarian aid convoys,' Juliette Touma, UNRWA's director of communications, told reporters in a video briefing from Amman, Jordan.
'Bread is a rare luxury'
Meanwhile, the World Food Program (WFP) is raising the alarm on growing malnutrition and hunger, as Gaza's food supply chains collapse.
Of the roughly 1,129 aid trucks that have entered Gaza since October 21, only 447 carried food items. Fuel shortages have crippled bakeries. Seventy percent of Gaza is without clean drinking water. Food prices are surging. WFP said people are lucky to get one meal a day.
'The food that has entered Gaza so far is only enough to meet 7% of the people's daily minimum of the caloric needs,' WFP spokesperson Abeer Etefa told reporters from Cairo. 'With winter fast approaching, the unsafe and overcrowded shelters, the lack of clean water - people are facing the immediate possibility of starvation.'
A man prepares traditional unleavened bread on an open fire at school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov, 14, 2023.
WFP has managed to assist 764,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank since early October, and they hope to reach a million by next month. Etefa said to do this, they need to scale-up the number of aid trucks entering Gaza through more than just the one available crossing point. Kerem Shalom, which the U.N. says is the only crossing with the capacity to quickly process a large number of trucks, remains closed. Aid organizations have been appealing for Israel to reopen it.
Bakeries, which provide a daily staple for the Palestinian diet, have mostly shuttered, either due to a lack of fuel or war damage. Etefa said that at the start of the conflict, WFP worked with 23 bakeries to provide 200,000 people in UNRWA shelters with fresh bread each day.
'This is now over, because all of the 23 bakeries are now out of service,' she said.
Gaza's last working flour mill was reportedly hit and destroyed on Wednesday, making it even more difficult to locally produce bread.
'Bread is a rare luxury,' she said.
But with adequate fuel, Etefa said some bakeries could come back online immediately.
'We do have some wheat flour that's left that can be given to some of these bakeries, and they can immediately be put to work,' she said. 'We can also prioritize wheat flour on the convoys that are going into Gaza.'
On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council overcame weeks of inaction and bickering to issue a call for 'extended humanitarian pauses' in Gaza, to get aid in and evacuate the seriously sick and wounded, only to have Israel immediately reject the measure.