UN agency suspends food distribution for Palestinian refugees in Rafah due to insecurity

Palestinian children carry pots as they queue to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, amid shortages in food supplies, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip December 14, 2023. File photo: REUTERS/Saleh Salem

Dubai: The UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said on Tuesday that food distribution in Gaza's southern city of Rafah were currently suspended due to lack of supplies and insecurity.
UNRWA said in a statement on X that only seven out of its 24 health centres were operational and that it had not received any medical supplies in the past 10 days due to "closures/disruptions" at the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings into Gaza.

Meanwhile, the United Nations is planning new routes to distribute aid from a US-built pier in Gaza, a spokesperson said, after crowds of needy residents intercepted trucks, causing a halt to deliveries that continued for a third day on Tuesday.

The temporary, floating pier is meant to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, though aid workers say that only deliveries through land borders can ensure relief on the scale that is needed.

Operations at the pier began on Friday and the U.N. said 10 truckloads of food aid - transported from the pier by U.N. contractors - were received at a World Food Programme (WFP) warehouse in Deir El Balah in Gaza. But on Saturday, only five truckloads made it to the warehouse after 11 others were intercepted.

Distribution was then paused as logistics teams planned new routes and coordination of deliveries in an effort to prevent more aid being intercepted, said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson in Cairo. "The missions were planned for today using the new routes to avoid the crowds," she said. "Up until now we haven't heard that they moved."

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, March 7, 2024. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

The pier has been met with hope and scepticism by residents in Gaza. "The pier should be there when the (Israeli) occupation completely ends. Then, it will be good for us. It will be good to travel, to get things," said one, Abu Nadi al-Haddad, questioning why it was needed now, given the existence of several land crossings.

Another resident, Abu Nasser Abu Khousa, came to the coastal road close to where the pier is located with his four-year-old son and a donkey-drawn cart in the hope of receiving aid.

"We are waiting for the American aid, but we did not get anything," he said, adding that he had lost his home in the war and had been displaced multiple times. "We will come back tomorrow, God willing, in the hope that we will get some aid, that will help us survive."

Palestinians gather in the hope of obtaining aid delivered into Gaza through a U.S.-built pier, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from central Gaza Strip, May 19, 2024. REUTERS/Ramadan Abed/File Photo

The war between Israel and Hamas that broke out last October has caused a deep humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with many of the coastal enclave's 2.3 million residents facing chronic shortages of food and medicines.

Deliveries of international aid have fallen sharply since Israel stepped up military operations in and around the southern city of Rafah on May 7, closing the Rafah border crossing to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

Aid offloaded at the floating pier comes by ship from Cyprus, where it is first inspected by Israel. The pier operation is estimated to cost $320 million and involve 1,000 U.S. service personnel.

U.S. Central Command said late on Monday that more than 569 metric tonnes of relief donated by the U.S., Britain, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union had so far been delivered to the pier. It was unclear how much aid has been waiting at the pier since distribution by the U.N. into Gaza was suspended on Saturday.

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