UN says trickle of aid not enough


UN AID:ISRAEL ALLOWED trucks carrying relief supplies into Gaza yesterday but the UN has warned that the trickle of aid is not enough to address chronic humanitarian needs as the Israeli bombardment of the territory enters its fourth day.

“People are simply overwhelmed by the scale of the attacks,” said Aidan O’Leary of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).

According to the agency, at least 62 civilians have been killed in Israeli air strikes since Saturday. Mr O’Leary, an Irish national who is deputy director of the agency’s operations in Gaza, said that figure was based on visits by agency officials to hospitals and medical centres and it related only to women and children.

“These are conservative estimates. The figure is bound to rise,” Mr O’Leary told The Irish Times in a telephone interview from Jerusalem.

Palestinian officials said yesterday the overall death toll had risen to at least 314 since the weekend, with as many as 1,400 others injured.

UNRWA has called for Israel to open more border crossings to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Yesterday 14 of the agency’s trucks carrying food and medical supplies were permitted through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Mr O’Leary said the agency hoped that more than double that number would be allowed through today.

UNRWA’s commissioner general, Karen AbuZayd, said yesterday the agency’s existing supplies there had completely run out.

She described scenes of panic in the densely populated streets of Gaza’s capital.

“It’s very bad – people are running in all directions because of the bombings that are happening everywhere,” Ms AbuZayd told CNN from Gaza. “People are very agitated because the bombings are now concentrating on individual houses and individual families, apparently . . . People are beginning to fight among themselves, and it’s just quite a chaotic time,” she added.

Even before this week’s attacks, Gaza languished under an Israeli blockade which prevented adequate stocks of foodstuffs and medical supplies from reaching the territory’s 1.5 million inhabitants.

Gaza’s hospitals and clinics have now been stretched to breaking point, with reports of corpses lying on floors as morgues filled up. A small number of injured Gazans passed through the Rafah crossing into Egypt for treatment yesterday.

“The medical system in Gaza was already struggling to cope with routine work, let alone the massive casualties of the last few days,” said Mr O’Leary.

“This was a surprise attack. I don’t think anyone was expecting anything like this. There is huge shock at the scale and scope of the killings, and there is also growing anger that this is happening.”

Mr O’Leary said incidents such as the killing of five girls who died when Israeli forces bombed a mosque near their home in the Jabaliya refugee camp yesterday had caused widespread outrage.

“This is going to fuel anger here and Hamas will simply harvest that anger in the future,” he added.

Priorities for the UN agency in the immediate term will include ensuring health services and feeding systems remain functioning and providing temporary shelter for people whose homes have been reduced to rubble. After that comes the mammoth task of rebuilding homes and lives.

“All we can do is hope for the best, but plan for the worst,” said Mr O’Leary.