UN humanitarian chief delivers ‘apocalyptic’ warning over Gaza aid

<span>Trucks carrying aid to Gaza enter through the Karm Abu Salem border crossing. Battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings are stopping aid getting through.</span><span>Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images</span>
Trucks carrying aid to Gaza enter through the Karm Abu Salem border crossing. Battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings are stopping aid getting through.Photograph: Anadolu/Getty Images

The United Nations’ humanitarian chief has warned of “apocalyptic” consequences due to aid shortages in Gaza, where Israel’s military offensive in the southern city of Rafah has blocked desperately needed food.

“If fuel runs out, aid doesn’t get to the people where they need it. That famine, which we have talked about for so long, and which is looming, will not be looming any more. It will be present,” the UN under-secretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, Martin Griffiths, told AFP on the sidelines of meetings with Qatari officials in Doha.

“And I think our worry, as citizens of the international community, is that the consequence is going to be really, really hard. Hard, difficult, and apocalyptic.”

Griffith said 50 trucks of aid a day could reach the hardest-hit people north of Gaza through the reopened Erez crossing on the northern frontier. However, he added, the battles near the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings in Gaza’s south meant the vital routes were effectively blocked.

“So aid getting in through land routes to the south and for Rafah, and the people dislodged by Rafah is almost nil,” Griffiths added. “And we all said that very clearly, that a Rafah operation is a disaster in humanitarian terms, a disaster for the people already displaced to Rafah. This is now their fourth or fifth displacement,” he said.

With key land crossings closed, some relief supplies began flowing in this week via a temporary floating pier constructed by the US. Griffiths said the maritime operation was beginning to bring in truckloads of aid, but he cautioned: “It’s not a replacement for the land routes.”

Cogat, an Israeli defence ministry agency, said on Saturday that it was facilitating the delivery of food, water and aid into Gaza, including “hundreds of tents” for displaced people. Aid agencies, however, have repeatedly said their operations were regularly hampered by the Israeli authorities.

Israeli tanks and warplanes continued to bombard parts of Rafah over the weekend, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they had fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at Israeli forces massing to the east, south-east and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

An Israeli airstrike on Sunday killed 20 people in central Gaza, mostly women and children, according to records at Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah, where the bodies were taken. A separate airstrike in Nuseirat resulted in a further five deaths, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service.


In Deir al-Balah, another strike claimed the lives of Zahed al-Houli, a high-ranking officer in the Hamas-controlled police force, and one other individual, as reported by Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital. The Guardian could not independently verify the claims.

The reports indicated an escalated campaign of airstrikes and fighting in northern Gaza, an area that has been predominantly cordoned off by Israeli forces for several months.

Footage released by rescuers in the area of Beit Lahiya showed efforts to retrieve the body of a woman from the rubble against a backdrop of explosions and billowing smoke, while residents in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp nearby recounted a relentless onslaught of artillery fire and airstrikes.

Medical sources told the Palestinian news agency Wafa that Israeli forces were besieging al-Awda hospital in Jabaliya and that treatment could not be provided to the sick and injured.

“The situation is very difficult,” said Abdel-Kareem Radwan, a 48-year-old in Jabaliya. He said the whole eastern side of the city had become a battle zone where the Israeli fighter jets “strike anything that moves”.

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesperson for the civil defence, said rescuers had recovered at least 150 bodies, more than half of them women and children, since Israel launched the operation in Jabaliya last week. He said about 300 homes had been completely destroyed.

Within Israel, anti-government protesters held a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night calling for the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to resign. There has been frustration over the failure of efforts to free hostages held in Gaza.

Netanyahu is also facing internal divisions in his government. On Saturday, the war cabinet minister, Benny Gantz, threatened to resign if Netanyahu failed to adopt an agreed plan for Gaza, calling into question the future of the Israeli government.

AP and AFP contributed to this report.