Aid agencies push for Gaza humanitarian corridor amid shortages

Damage to infrastructure has affected hospitals, power lines, sewerage networks and water supplies

TOPSHOT - Palestinian children sit in the back of a van loaded with salvaged belongings from their home at the Al-Jawhara Tower in Gaza City, on May 17, 2021, which was heavily damaged by  Israeli airstrikes. / AFP / ANAS BABA
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With fuel and medicine supplies running out in Gaza, aid agencies have been pushing for a humanitarian corridor to bring in essentials to the Palestinian territory.

But more than a week into the war, the border with Israel remains firmly shut.

While medics tend to more than 1,400 people the Health Ministry says have been wounded in Gaza, the damage to infrastructure has affected hospitals, power lines, sewerage networks and water supplies.

Fuel is running out, medical supplies and food will eventually run out.

“The fighting must stop immediately,” the UN's Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Monday.

“Until a ceasefire is reached, all parties must agree to a humanitarian pause, while Israel should reopen the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings."

Humanitarian staff told The National  that for days they have been working towards an hours-long pause in fighting, which would allow for relief operations and let Gazans have access to supplies.

“They haven’t reached an agreement yet,” said Ely Sok, head of the Palestine mission for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“At the moment in Gaza they are relying on the current supply, which is decreasing every day."

MSF, which had one of its clinics damaged on Sunday in an air strike, has donated some of its supplies to the Ministry of Health to treat trauma patients.

Gaza was already suffering from chronic shortages of medical supplies, more than 13 years after Israel imposed a crippling blockade on the enclave.

But the situation has worsened dramatically since fighting broke out on May 10.

More than 200 Gazans have been killed in the violence, while in Israel eight people have been killed by rockets.

Gaza is also running low on fuel, which has already stopped one hospital from functioning.

“We see a chronic fuel shortage with only four hours of electricity a day for different neighbourhoods,” said Christoph Hanger, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“Sometimes people only focus on essential things like food, medicine and water.

"Even though these are of course important things, other supplies like fuel to run generators to keep hospitals running or vaccines to combat Covid-19 are essential."

In the weeks before the conflict erupted, Gaza had a surge in coronavirus cases and less than 2 per cent of the population has received a vaccine.

Samples had been tested for coronavirus at Gaza’s central laboratory, which the Health Ministry said on Monday was out of action after being damaged in an air strike.

With tens of thousands of displaced people crowded into schools serving as temporary shelters, there are fears coronavirus could spread more rapidly during the conflict.

Some outside relief has come from Egypt, after authorities opened the Rafah crossing at Gaza’s southern border on Sunday to carry out the wounded.

Lorries carrying medical supplies and food were sent to the crossing on Monday, Egyptian authorities said.

The Israeli military said it understood the need for humanitarian relief but would not say when the country’s two crossings with Gaza would be briefly opened.

“In times of an operation there are things that are in higher priority," a military official said.

"Sometimes these efforts can be addressed, but sometimes they have to be delayed."

Israel operates the Kerem Shalom goods crossing and a second, Erez, for people.

Matthias Schmale, Gaza director for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the date for a temporary opening had continually been pushed back.

“That’s a distinct difference from the 2014 war,” Mr Schmale said. “There was much earlier agreement for specified timings, to allow things to come in and out.”

With no agreement for a pause in the fighting, he said essentials could be used up in a matter of days.

“Fuel is running out, medical supplies and food will eventually run out,” Mr Schmale said. “It’s vital that a humanitarian corridor is established.”