Gaza is 'choked off' from aid since crossings shut, UN agencies say

Aftermath of an Israeli strike on a house in Rafah

By Emma Farge

GENEVA (Reuters) -U.N. agencies said on Tuesday the two main crossings into the southern Gaza Strip remained shut, virtually cutting off the Palestinian enclave from outside aid with few stocks positioned inside.

The global agency's humanitarian office spokesperson Jens Laerke told journalists Israel had shut both the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings for aid and people as part of its military operation in Rafah, where around 1 million uprooted people are 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.

"The two main arteries for getting aid into Gaza are currently choked off," Laerke said, adding U.N. agencies had very low stocks inside the Gaza Strip since humanitarian supplies were consumed immediately. The enclave has just a one-day buffer of fuel stocks, he said.

"If no fuel comes in for a prolonged period of time it would be a very effective way of putting the humanitarian operation in its grave," he said.

A World Health Organization spokesperson said in response to a journalist's question that no exceptions were being made for sick and injured patients.

While some non-fuel supplies have entered Gaza via the northern Erez crossing in recent days, the U.N. agencies said this was insufficient and difficult to deliver to Rafah since it meant crossing active combat zones.

"Erez will simply not be enough," said James Elder, a spokesperson for the United Nations children's agency. "If Rafah gate closes for an extended period, it's hard to see how famine in Gaza can be averted," he said.

The World Food Programme said later on social media platform X that its stocks would only last between one and four days for the southern and central parts of Gaza.

Even before the latest escalation in the seven-month-old conflict, the United Nations had repeatedly accused Israel of restricting aid access despite famine warnings. Faced with growing international pressure, Israel had pledged to improve access but says U.N. agencies are to blame for not distributing aid more efficiently within the enclave.

U.N. agencies said they had pre-stocked some aid within Rafah but said there were very low supplies of water and high-energy nutrition supplies needed to treat malnourished children.

(Reporting by Emma Farge, Editing by Rachel More, William Maclean, Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones)