Gazans mourn

People mourn at the morgue of Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza on October 27, 2023.

(Photo: Abed Zagout/Anadolu via Getty Images)

'Gaza Is Being Strangled': Head of UN Refugee Agency Issues Stirring Appeal for Cease-Fire

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini warned that Gaza is "on the brink of a massive health hazard" as Israel's blockade and bombing prevent the free flow of desperately needed aid.

The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees issued an urgent appeal for a cease-fire in Gaza on Friday, warning that Israel's blockade and incessant bombing are plunging the territory's population into a horrific humanitarian emergency.

During a press conference, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) commissioner-general said the Gaza Strip is "on the brink of a massive health hazard as the risks of diseases are looming."

"Medicine is running out. Food and water are running out. The streets of Gaza have started overflowing with sewage," said Lazzarini. "The siege means that food, water, and fuel—basic commodities—are being used to collectively punish more than 2 million people, among them, a majority of children and women."

Lazzarini lamented that "intensive negotiations and endless shuttle diplomacy" have only resulted in a few aid convoys reaching southern Gaza via the Egyptian border.

The Israeli government has refused to allow any aid to flow to northern Gaza, where hospitals are overwhelmed and running low on fuel and other critical supplies. Human Rights Watch stressed earlier this week that deliberately blocking humanitarian relief is a war crime.

The UNRWA chief said Friday that the slow and limited trickle of aid thus far "will not reverse the fact that Gaza is being strangled."
"These few trucks are nothing more than crumbs that will not make a difference for 2 million people," said Lazzarini. "We should avoid conveying the message that a few trucks a day means the siege is lifted for humanitarian aid. It is not. The current system in place is geared to fail."

"What is needed is meaningful and uninterrupted aid flow," he added. "To succeed, we need a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure this aid reaches those in need. This is not too much to ask for."

U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk echoed Lazzarini's call for an end to the bombing and siege on Friday, pointing to "harrowing testimonies of entire families killed by airstrikes on their homes" and "of parents writing children's names on their arms to identify their future remains."

"We mourn the loss of 57 U.N. colleagues and so many more civilians who are clearly, disproportionately impacted," said Türk. "Peace, security, and justice will not be found down this current path. The cycle of vengeance and bloodshed needs to end."

"With a low stock of medicines and extremely limited access to clean water, the rate of antibiotic resistance in Gaza is alarming."

Unnamed sources toldAl Jazeera on Friday that Qatar-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas are "advancing rapidly" toward an agreement on a cease-fire and prisoner-exchange deal nearly three weeks into the deadly conflict, but the specifics of such an agreement remain unclear. A Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 killed more than 1,400 people, and Israel's devastating response has killed more than 7,000.

The Israeli bombing campaign and siege have devastated Gaza's population, displacing more than a million people and obliterating the enclave's civilian infrastructure. The relentless attack is also threatening to unleash a disastrous public health crisis.

Oxfam International warned last week that Gaza is facing a possible "outbreak of deadly infectious diseases, like cholera, because water and sanitation services have completely broken down."

"All five of Gaza's wastewater treatment plants and most of its 65 sewage pumping stations have been forced to close," the humanitarian group said. "Untreated sewage is now being discharged into the sea and, in some areas, solid waste is accumulating in the streets."

Doctors Without Borders is also sounding the alarm about an impending health catastrophe in Gaza, noting that "people with open wounds and fractures caused by airstrikes and gunfire are highly susceptible to infection." The group also said the lack of clean water "further complicates poor hygiene conditions in the makeshift shelters where many displaced people are living in close quarters since fleeing northern Gaza."

"With a low stock of medicines and extremely limited access to clean water, the rate of antibiotic resistance in Gaza is alarming," the group said in a statement. "Some patients require immediate isolation to avoid the spread of bacteria with no known antibiotic treatment. All too often, amputations are required to prevent the infection from spreading and save people's lives."

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