The United Nations said it would not be able to deliver basic necessities to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Friday due to communication collapsing in the Palestinian enclave and a lack of fuel. The World Health Organization warned that the paralyzed aid would mean the “immediate possibility of starvation” for the roughly 2.3 million people living in the embattled region.
“The communications network in #Gaza is down because there is NO fuel,” the U.N. agency that operates in Gaza, UNRWA, said in a statement on social media. “This makes it impossible to manage or coordinate humanitarian aid convoys.”
“We will not be able to uphold our commitments to provide for the Palestinian people any longer,” UNRWA Commissioner General Philippe Lazzarini said in remarks delivered Thursday. “I do believe that it is outrageous that humanitarian agencies are reduced to begging for fuel and forced after that to decide who will we assist or not assist, when you have such a large population in a lifesaving situation.”
WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain said that supplies of food and water are “practically non-existent in Gaza and only a fraction of what is needed is arriving through the borders.”
Israel had prevented shipments of fuel from entering into Gaza since the beginning of the war, saying fuel would be hoarded by Hamas. It then allowed limited shipments in this week for UNRWA.
On Friday, an Israeli official told the Reuters news agency that Israel’s war cabinet had approved letting two trucks of fuel into Gaza a day to meet U.N. needs, after a request from the United States.
“I can confirm that UNRWA did not receive any fuel today,” Juliette Touma, Director of Communications at UNRWA, told CBS News on Friday.
“We need 120,000 liters a day minimum for humanitarian operations for UNRWA and other organizations… We ran out of fuel, and we need fuel, and we have been forced to beg for fuel for the past five weeks,” she said.
On Thursday night, Israel’s war cabinet voted to allow the delivery of significant amounts of fuel through Rafah crossing, following direct and urgent warnings by U.S. officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken that any further delay could result in a humanitarian catastrophe in southern Gaza.
The cabinet approved the delivery of 140,000 liters of fuel every 48 hours. Of those, 120,000 liters will be dedicated to UNRWA trucks performing deliveries of humanitarian assistance inside Gaza, as well as desalinization, well and sewage pumping, solid waste disposal, and hospitals operating in the south.
The additional 20,000 liters are for Paltel generators that power cell and internet communications in Gaza. The deliveries will be offloaded at the Rafah fuel depot for further distribution.
Blinken, U.S. envoy David Satterfield and other administration officials have been pushing publicly and privately for weeks for fuel deliveries to begin in Gaza, culminating in an urgent pressure campaign this week when fuel supplies ran out. Blinken called two of Israel’s five war cabinet members — Ron Dermer on Wednesday and Benny Gantz on Thursday — to stress that the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza required an immediate start to the deliveries.
Israeli officials had for a time linked fuel deliveries to hostage negotiations, which in recent weeks have proceeded in fits and starts, and which U.S. officials said could no longer pose an obstacle to fuel getting into Gaza.
A small amount of fuel, 24,000 liters, entered Gaza for the first time on Wednesday for distribution to UN aid trucks.
Over 11,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza since the start of the war, according to Palestinian health authorities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News on Thursday that “unfortunately, we’re not successful” in minimizing civilian casualties in Gaza, because “Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way.”