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Five thousand volunteers packed 20,000 urgent Gaza relief packages at three UAE aid events on Sunday - in a huge outpouring of support which surpassed expectations.
Organisers of the Compassion for Gaza campaign - now in its third week - had set their sights on preparing 15,000 vital packages of food and other essentials at events held in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.
But members of the public who happily devoted their spare time to the cause served to highlight the strength of solidarity felt with innocent civilians caught up in the raging conflict.
More than 15,000 volunteers have collected 1,250 tonnes of food and boxed up 58,000 aid packages since the humanitarian initiative was launched on October 15.
As the Israeli ground operation continues in northern Gaza, international calls sounded to allow safe aid corridors for tonnes of food, fuel, fresh water and medical supplies to pass through to those in need.
At Festival Arena in Dubai, volunteers worked from 9am to pack boxes of canned food, flour, tea, dates and biscuits that will be flown out this week via an air corridor into the conflict region.
'Innocent people are dying'
Wissam Ghaib, a Palestinian who works in advertising in Dubai, answered the call at Festival Arena City with his wife Hana and daughter Iman, 7.
“We have a young child, so we just feel for others who are suffering because we are also a family right now, and parents,” he said.
“There are victims and there are innocent people who are dying for no reason. That's something we should stop.
“What is happening here is about peace, love and unity and we want to contribute to these people because the only way we can contribute is through these projects, or by sending money or other things that are needed. That's all we can do.”
Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Deputy Ruler of Sharjah, shared pictures on social media of the large turnout at the aid event held at Al Bayt Mitwahid Hall in the emirate.
He said the nationwide relief effort would "bear fruit" and the country had a duty to support the people of Palestine.
The Compassion for Gaza campaign is central to the UAE's efforts to display solidarity with and support for the people of Palestine, with President Sheikh Mohamed donating $20 million to support the cause.
Volunteers have been asked to register in advance on various online platforms, including Volunteers Emirates, the Emirates Red Crescent volunteer portal and Youm for Dubai.
One such volunteer was Shamsheer Chokli, 45, an Indian citizen who works in public relations in Dubai, who helped out with the campaign in Dubai.
“This is for the many people suffering in Gaza,” he said.
“We have to be kind enough to get them at least some meals, so they can have food for a day.
“Whenever there is any issue, they are calling us to volunteer and we are doing our best.
“This is a problem for all humankind – we should always be against war and support the people who are suffering. We must do this from our heart.”
Donation centres have been set up across the UAE by the Emirates Red Crescent Authority to collect aid for families affected by the Israel-Gaza conflict. Financial contributions can also be made online to the ERC.
International aid to support the humanitarian crisis has been widespread but challenges remain in transporting supplies safely into Gaza from Egypt, the only route into the enclave.
The World Food Programme is working closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure aid from the UAE avoids bottlenecks that could prevent it from reaching those in need.
“So far, we have received and delivered 50 tonnes of aid from this campaign,” said Mageed Yahia, WFP representative to the GCC, whose staff were volunteering on Sunday in Dubai.
“It was flown to Arish [in Egypt] two weeks ago and has started to get into Gaza.
“Given the bottlenecks at the crossings, some of the food already made it in and there are other necessities like drinking water, fuel, medicines and equipment that are needed still.
“This is a war. So security and safety of our staff is of course important.
“Without that, these supplies will not be able to reach the population.”
From the packing centres, supplies will go to warehouses of the Emirates Red Crescent in the International Humanitarian City in Dubai.
It will then be flown on specially chartered planes into Arish where it is to be stored in mobile depots managed by the Egyptian Red Crescent.
The slick volunteer operation in the UAE has allowed centres to pack about 10,000 boxes each day.
Abdulla Ahmed Alshehhi, chief operating officer of Dubai Cares, praised the contribution of the volunteers.
“There was an overwhelming response from the first edition of the campaign which we organised last week, so we organised a second in Dubai in co-operation with the Emirates Red Crescent,” he said.
“We will try to control the number of registrations showing up on the day but we are not turning away anyone who would like to come and support us in this campaign.“
Since we announced the project, we've had a lot of registrations. All the volunteers here now registered within a few hours, from different nationalities, ethnic backgrounds and age groups.
“We don't know how the situation [in Gaza] is going to continue but we are monitoring it closely.”