Aid agencies seek to mobilise forces in Gaza as bombs continue to fall before expected ceasefire

Humanitarian groups urge Israel to allow them access to the Palestinian enclave as supplies dwindle

Aid agencies are mobilising to ensure that humanitarian relief reaches civilians in Gaza, despite Israel's continued bombing campaign.

Israeli strikes are complicating the humanitarian response to the crisis by damaging roads, making it difficult for civilians to access aid, and border closures mean relief workers and critical supplies are not able to reach those in need.

“Today we informed both Israeli and Hamas authorities that as of tomorrow, we would be moving around and stepping up progressively our response to critical needs,” said Fabrizio Carboni, regional director of the Near and Middle East for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

“Both parties have a clear legal responsibility to facilitate such action and movements,” Mr Carboni said.

Health officials in Gaza say 230 Palestinians, including 65 children, have been killed and more than 1,700 wounded in air and artillery bombardments since the conflict began on May 10.

“People – exhausted from sleepless nights, from constant fear, worry and grief – need a window during which they can go outside and [go] about their business without fear of being killed or injured, or of witnessing death or injury to others,” Mr Carboni said.

The ICRC is urging officials from both sides to allow humanitarian workers “to move around, meet and hear from people in order to assess their needs and respond with the necessary assistance".

Doctors Without Borders said its team has not been able to send additional staff and supplies into Gaza, because they were denied access on Thursday.

"This is now more than 10 days since the Israeli bombardment of Gaza began and the humanitarian needs are mounting, with more than 1,400 people injured and tens of thousands of people displaced. The health system, which faces shortages even when there’s no bombing, is out of key materials to treat the injured, such as blood bags," said Ely Sok, the organisation's head of mission in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

"The crossing points need to be reopened immediately and safe passage must be facilitated for humanitarian staff and supplies to avert a greater catastrophe," he said.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said it has not yet received approval to enter Gaza to bring in "essential humanitarian supplies meant to provide relief to the distressed population”, the agency said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) called for a humanitarian pause in Israel's bombardment to allow access for aid.

"The closure of entry and exit points for patients and humanitarian health teams and the severe restrictions on the entry of medical supplies is exacerbating this public health crisis," WHO regional director Ahmed Al Mandhari said.

"The severity of injuries is straining an already overwhelmed health system that is facing critical shortages of essential medicines and supplies while also battling the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr Al Mandhari said.

Updated: May 20, 2021 06:49 PM

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