Gaza: No improvement in aid access to north, insists senior UN aid official

A UN team inspects a destroyed school in Khan Younis.
© UNOCHA/Themba Linden
A UN team inspects a destroyed school in Khan Younis.
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Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator overseeing crisis relief in Gaza, pushed back at Israeli claims that more than 1,000 trucks had entered Gaza in the last few days, but only around 800 had been collected on the Palestinian side.

The veteran aid official also maintained that the deconfliction system in which humanitarians shared their coordinates with the warring sides was “consistently inaccurate”, but that he had raised these and other operational concerns with the Israeli military at their first meeting earlier this week.

“It’s very easy for Israel to say we’ve sent you 1,000 trucks so please deliver them inside Gaza,” he said, in a renewed appeal to the Israeli authorities to recognise that their responsibility as the occupying Power “only ends when…aid reaches the civilians in Gaza”.

Security vacuum

Describing long delays at checkpoints and a “security vacuum” inside the enclave that continues to hamper the delivery of aid where it is most needed, the UN official noted that the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) team, whose vehicle was hit by live ammunition on Thursday, had been held “for hours” at a checkpoint on Salah Al Deen Road.

So far this month, some 60 hours have been wasted in this way, Mr. McGoldrick insisted. “And then what happens sometimes, it’s too late in the day – because you can only travel in daylight hours – to go north and therefore sometimes the mission is cancelled. And then we get blamed by Israel for cancelling the convoy, cancelling the mission to the north.”

Only three roads are open to humanitarian relief in Gaza today: the middle route via Salah Al Deen Road, the coastal Al Rashid Road and the military road on the east side of Gaza. “At no point in time in the last month and more have we had three or even two of those roads working at the same time simultaneously,” the UN aid coordinator maintained, adding that all of the highways were in “very poor condition”.

The consequences of “very limited” aid missions into the north of the enclave were already clear, judging by how underweight babies are when they are born, Mr. McGoldrick continued.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (centre) visits the Kamal Adwan hospital, the only paediatric hospital in northern Gaza.
The UN Humanitarian Coordinator Jamie McGoldrick (centre) visits the Kamal Adwan hospital, the only paediatric hospital in northern Gaza.

Life-threatening hunger

Speaking from Jerusalem, he described visiting Kamal Adwan Hospital two weeks ago, where “every single patient” in the children’s ward faced life-threatening hunger.

“The last child I saw was in an incubator who was a two-day-old boy, but who wasn't prematurely born – he was born after nine months – but he was 1.2 kg. There are going to be long-term consequences, which will be felt in the development possibility of that child.”

Insisting on the need for a direct telephone line to the Israeli military “and the ability to speak to them”, Mr. McGoldrick noted that the targeting of the non-governmental organisation World Central Kitchen convoy two weeks ago was only recent evidence of the frequent dangers faced by aid teams operating in Gaza.

“We have to have handheld radios, VHF radios, all the things you have in any normal issue, in a normal crisis. We don't have them,” he said, maintaining that the Israeli authorities had not allowed them for fear that they might be used by Hamas fighters.

Evacuation call

Echoing concerns about the dire healthcare situation in Gaza, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) called for a structured medical evacuations system to treat patients, instead of the current “ad hoc” arrangement.

Damage to Al Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s biggest – during a two-week Israeli military raid had left a “huge crater” in the specialised surgery block, said Thanos Gargavanis, WHO trauma surgeon and emergency officer.

Speaking from Gaza, Dr Gargavanis said that the hospital had been completely destroyed, including the oxygen plant, laboratory equipment and other critical equipment including a CT scanner and other machines required to provide lifesaving care.

“The buildings themselves are burned down, walls are missing; there are holes of shrapnel and fire all along them,” the WHO officer noted, before describing how a recce of the hospital last week found open spaces littered with makeshift graves or with bodies lying either uncovered or with a plastic sheet over them.

The WHO and other UN agencies have ensured that the deceased found at Al Shifa can receive a dignified burial, after naming the bodies or making it possible for them to be identified by DNA testing in future.

“After this destruction, we feel that we are returning 60 years before when medical imaging was not available, where laboratory tests were not available,” Dr Gargavanis said. “We want to stress again that hospitals should never be militarized.”

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