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Humanitarians Locked In Aid Delivery ‘Dance’ To Avert Famine In Gaza

Scaling up assistance in Gaza remains a challenge in the face of continued access denials, delays and other impediments, the head of the UN humanitarian affairs office (OCHA) in the occupied Palestinian territories said on 16 April.

Andrea de Domenico was speaking via videoconference to journalists in New York, briefing them on developments in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

He said although humanitarians welcome recent Israeli commitments to improve aid facilitation in Gaza, “we are dealing with this dance where we do one step forward, two steps backwards; or two steps forward and one step backward, which leaves us basically at the same point”.

Northern missions denied

Between 6-12 April, 41 per cent of humanitarian requests to the north were denied, he said. A UN convoy also came under crossfire while near a checkpoint during the same period.

Although humanitarians and the international community are making every possible effort to support people inside Gaza, “the reality is there is very little that we can bring…to tackle displacement and deal with the looming famine”.

Mr. de Domenico addressed the overall devastation in Gaza since the start of hostilities following the brutal Hamas attacks against Israel on 7 October 2023.

All universities destroyed

“The vast majority of schools have been destroyed and there is not a single university that is standing in Gaza. It will take years to bring back students to school, and you can imagine what is the implication for that,” he said.

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The conflict has also seen “really very problematic” military operations at hospitals, such as the recent two-week offensive that left Al-Shifa Hospital “completely non-functional”. UN teams are now helping families with identifying the remnants of corpses found buried in graves within the premises.

He said “uncertainty is a daily reality for people in Gaza”, where families have been displaced multiple times. Thousands of Palestinians flocked to the coastal road two days ago following rumours that Israel would allow people to return to the north.

Meanwhile, engagement with Israel continues, including towards opening a border crossing into northern Gaza.

“We’ve seen some progress on that,” he said. “There are still some tests. It's very sensitive, of course, as you can imagine, from the Israeli public, and also there are logistical challenges to face”, due to the sheer level of destruction in the north.

West Bank violence

Turning to the West Bank, he said a new wave of settler violence erupted last Friday following the discovery of the body of an Israeli boy who had gone missing.

Simultaneous attacks were carried out against 17 villages and three Palestinians were killed, and many more injured. The UN counted 21 homes completely burned, along with 30 cars and agricultural infrastructure, and 86 people displaced.

“There has been the use of live ammunition, and dozens of livestock have been killed and hundreds stolen. And Israeli forces in some cases, and accounts that we have collected on the ground, were somehow protecting the attackers or in some cases participating in the attack,” he said.

A ‘concerning’ situation

Mr. de Domenico said the development is “quite concerning…because it is entrenching a trend that has been very, very intense after October.”

He said 781 attacks have occurred since then, or more than four per day, and the newly appointed Palestinian Prime Minister has requested international support to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

The UN has also counted 114 new barriers that have been erected in the West Bank since 7 October, including checkpoints, roadblocks and road gates “which is constraining the ability of Palestinians to move to the point that some of our colleagues do not come to the office now for months”.

The restrictions have had an impact on livelihoods and also displaced more than 200 Palestinian households, some 1,300 people, mostly herder families.

Fresh appeal

On Wednesday, humanitarians will announce a $2.8 billion flash appeal to support some three million people across the West Bank and Gaza through the end of the year, with 90 per cent of the funding going to the enclave.

He said the original request was for $4 billion “but considering the limited ability to deliver and the space that we have to do so, we have really focused on the highest priority.”

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