Gaza aid operations could grind to halt within days, UN agencies warn

Palestinians wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip

By Matthias Williams

LONDON (Reuters) -Dwindling food and fuel stocks could force aid operations to grind to a halt within days in Gaza as vital crossings remain shut, forcing hospitals to close and leading to more children dying of hunger, United Nations aid agencies warned on Friday.

Humanitarian workers have sounded the alarm this week over the closure of the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings for aid and people into Gaza as part of Israel's military operation in Rafah, the enclave's southernmost city where around 1 million uprooted people have been sheltering.

The Israeli military said a limited operation in Rafah was meant to kill fighters and dismantle infrastructure used by Hamas, which governs the besieged Palestinian territory. U.N. agencies warn it could lead to a "slaughter" and put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk.

"For five days, no fuel and virtually no humanitarian aid entered the Gaza Strip, and we are scraping the bottom of the barrel," said the UNICEF Senior Emergency Coordinator in the Gaza Strip, Hamish Young.

"This is already a huge issue for the population and for all humanitarian actors but in a matter of days, if not corrected, the lack of fuel could grind humanitarian operations to a halt," he told a virtual briefing.

More than 100,000 people have fled Rafah in the last five days, he added.

The situation in Gaza has reached "even more unprecedented levels of emergency," Georgios Petropoulos, the head of the Gaza sub-office of UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told reporters in the same briefing.


The closed crossings had prevented the movement of people including aid workers and medical evacuations, he said, while food shortages were pushing up prices and supplies had already been lost from the destruction and looting of warehouses.

In the next day or so, five health ministry hospitals, five field hospitals and 30 ambulances would stop without more fuel, he said, adding that any kind of meaningful safe water production in Rafah has come to a halt.

Of the 12 aid-supported bakeries in southern Gaza, eight had ceased to operate and the rest would run out of stocks by Monday.

Israel's assault on Gaza has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians and wounded nearly 80,000, most of them civilians, the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said.

It launched its offensive in response to a cross-border attack by Hamas militants on Israel on Oct. 7 in which they killed about 1,200 people and abducted 252. Some 128 hostages remain in Gaza and 36 have been declared dead, according to the latest Israeli figures.

Israel's move on Rafah, where it says Hamas fighters and potentially hostages are ensconced among displaced Palestinians, began this week with the evacuation of some civilians followed by limited incursions.

The Biden administration has said it cannot support a major Rafah invasion in the absence of what it would deem a credible plan to safeguard non-combatants. Israel has said victory in the seven-month-old conflict is impossible without taking Rafah.

"At a time when people are being forced to pick up and move again, the lifesaving supplies that sustain and support them have been entirely cut off," Young said.

"Let's be very clear – this will result in children dying. Deaths that can be prevented."

(Reporting by Matthias Williams; Editing by Miranda Murray and Alex Richardson)