Next 24 hours critical, says UN agency sheltering thousands in Gaza

UNRWA says it must make 'tough decisions' should lack of fuel force closure of shelters

Staff talk together in the playground of an UNRWA-run school that has been converted into a shelter for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 25, 2023. AFP
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The UN agency for Palestinian refugees faces a critical 24 hours to secure fuel or be forced to close shelters providing crucial aid to hundreds of thousands of people displaced in Gaza.

UNRWA is providing shelter and assistance to 600,000 people at its 150 facilities in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli air strikes have displaced about one million people and killed 6,500 more.

“The coming 24 hours are very critical and we have to make some really tough decisions,” UNRWA spokeswoman Juliette Touma told The National on Wednesday.

“If we don’t have fuel we will not be able to drive our cars and deliver the assistance nor are we able to drive our trucks to the borders to pick up what very little is coming on the convoys,” she said.

Israel has placed the Gaza Strip under a "total siege" and blocked fuel supplies from entering, despite repeated warnings from UNRWA that it needs fuel to be able to distribute and deliver assistance and aid to civilians.

The agency needs fuel to run water facilities and deliver flour to bakeries amid shortages of food and water, according to Ms Touma.

It may also be forced to close health clinics, which are running on electric generators.

Forty UNRWA installations have been damaged by Israeli air strikes since October 7 when Hamas, which controls Gaza, killed around 1,400 people in an attack on southern Israel. Since then Israel has launched deadly retaliatory strikes and blocked the entry of almost all aid into the enclave.

Gaza officials say more than 6,500 people have been killed, including 2,704 children, during the last 19 days of war.

Earlier on Wednesday, the agency said its shelters are "four times over their capacities – many people are sleeping in the streets as current facilities are overwhelmed".

UNRWA has 13,000 staff in Gaza, with 125 health staff working in rotating shifts at health centres. So far, 29 have been killed by Israeli air strikes.

Philippe Lazzarini, the agency's commissioner general, said on Sunday that "without fuel, we will fail the people of Gaza whose needs are growing by the hour, under our watch. This cannot and should not happen”.

"No fuel will further strangle the children, women and people of Gaza," he said.

Updated: October 25, 2023, 3:21 PM