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Ensuring aid reaches those fleeing Rafah 'not always possible', says UNRWA

Trucks transporting food, medical supplies and other essential aid are becoming increasingly scarce
Trucks transporting food, medical supplies and other essential aid are becoming increasingly scarce Copyright Fatima Shbair/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
Copyright Fatima Shbair/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved.
By Isabel Marques da Silva with AP
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Trucks transporting food, medical supplies and other essential aid are becoming increasingly scarce.

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It is almost impossible to provide any humanitarian aid in Gaza following the Israeli offensive on the southern city of Rafah, the director for Europe of the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees told Euronews. 

Some 1.4 million people sought refuge near Rafah when the Israeli offensive started more than seven months ago, in Northern Gaza. But the United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) now classifies the “safe zones” designated by Israel as “no man’s land”. 

The agency's director for Europe, Marta Lorenzo, told Euronews that she fears for the 800,000 people who are on the move again after leaving Rafah due to military action in the hope of reaching safe areas. 

“Al-Mawasi, for example, is a very sandy area. There is no infrastructure, no water or sanitation and so it is extremely difficult for people to access their most basic needs," Lorenzo, who arrived in Brussels less than a year ago after more than two decades in the Middle East, said.

"When people leave their shelters, we also have to move teams and it is not always possible to move supplies or equipment to be able to provide primary health care to people," she added.

The agency used to run 22 primary health centers in Gaza, but now has just seven and a few mobile clinics.

Trucks transporting food, medical supplies and other essential aid are becoming increasingly scarce.

“What we need is for land crossings to be open. Complementary assistance through airdrops or the maritime corridor is welcome, but (it) cannot replace the normal assistance that arrives via land passages," Lorenzo said.

At the heart of the problem are the two main crossings through which hundreds of aid trucks a day entered Gaza before the offensive began weeks after Hamas orchestrated deadly attacks in Israel on October 7.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been inoperative since Israel took control of it two weeks ago. The crossing near Kerem Shalom, between Israel and Gaza, is still open but the UN says it cannot reach the crossing to collect the aid that has made it through because it is too dangerous to travel.

Approximately 1.5 billion euros needed

The agency's financing needs for Gaza, this year, amount to around one billion euros. UNRWA was present at the 8th Brussels Conference on Supporting the Future of Syria and the Region, Monday, where it asked donors for around 400 million euros to help almost half a million Palestinian refugees living in Syria.

"Even though it's been 14 years since the start of this war, that doesn't mean things are better for people in Syria. Let me quickly give you an example, because I was in Syria visiting our schools and the teachers said- I know that our students faint in the classroom because they arrive at school without having eaten," Lorenzo said.

International donors announced on Monday that they will commit €7.5 billion in grants and loans to support Syrians affected by war, poverty and hunger.

UNRWA lost important financial support following Israeli accusations that 12 of its 13,000 workers were helping the Hamas movement. UN investigators said in April that a few more names had been added to the investigation, covering 14 UNRWA employees.

Pending the UN's internal investigation, some countries have resumed funding, including the EU. Italy announced, on Saturday, that it will resume financing, transferring €5 million.

Germany said last month it would resume cooperation with UNRWA following a report, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, on the agency's procedures for ensuring adherence to the principles of neutrality.

Colonna said that Israel had never expressed concerns about the agency's employees' alleged involvement in political movements, having received lists of names since 2011.

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However, the money could run out in June as the US, which provided more than 80% of these funds, has not yet lifted the suspension.

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