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UN says Israel 'systematically' blocking Gaza aid access

By AFP - Feb 27,2024 - Last updated at Feb 27,2024

Palestinians collect water in the Maghazi camp for Palestinian refugees, which was severely damaged by Israeli bombardment amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Hamas and Israel, in the central Gaza Strip on Tuesday (AFP photo)

GENEVA — Israeli forces are "systematically" blocking access to people in Gaza, complicating the task of delivering aid in what has become a lawless war zone, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

It has become nearly impossible to evacuate the sick or wounded and deliver aid in northern Gaza and increasingly difficult in the south, said Jens Laerke, spokesman for the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

All planned aid convoys into the north have been denied by Israeli authorities in recent weeks.

The last allowed in was on January 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Even convoys cleared in advance with Israeli authorities have been blocked or come under fire.

Laerke pointed to an incident on Sunday, when a convoy to evacuate 24 patients from the besieged Al Amal hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis — jointly organised by the WHO and Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) — was blocked for seven hours and paramedics detained.

 

‘Unacceptable’ 

 

“Despite prior coordination for all staff members and vehicles with the Israeli side, the Israeli forces blocked the WHO-led convoy for many hours the moment it left the hospital,” Laerke told journalists in Geneva.

“The Israeli military forced patients and staff out of ambulances and stripped all paramedics of their clothes,” he said.

The convoy had to leave another 31 patients behind at Amal, which is no long functioning after suffering 40 attacks in the past month alone that have killed at least 25 people.

“Three PRCS paramedics were subsequently detained, although their personal details had been shared with the Israeli forces in advance,” Laerke said. Just one has been released.

“This is not an isolated incident,” he stressed.

“Aid convoys have come under fire and are systematically denied access to people in need [meaning] humanitarian workers are subject to unacceptable and preventable risk.”

The PRCS said it was suspending operations in Gaza for 48 hours because Israel has failed to ensure the safety of its emergency medical teams.

Laerke said the UN would continue to remind Israeli forces they had an obligation, at a minimum, to facilitate “safe, smooth and rapid passage” when alerted to aid missions.

 

Desperate people 

 

Israel’s relentless military retaliation has killed at least 29,878 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to its Hamas-run health ministry.

The situation in the densely populated Palestinian territory is increasingly desperate.

Laerke said UN aid trucks, which travel without armed guards, are often stopped as soon as they cross into Gaza by crowds of people desperate for food and other aid.

“Desperate people take what they can,” he said.

But gangs also appeared to be taking aid which later turned up on the black market, he added, warning of an “increasing breakdown of civil order inside Gaza”.

 

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