A top U.N. agency is warning that if calls for a cease-fire in Gaza are not heeded, causalities will continue to mount, putting children in the densely populated Palestinian enclave at even greater risk.
“Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children,” said James Elder, UNICEF spokesperson, Tuesday. “It is a living hell for everyone else.”
The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry says that more than 8,300 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 3,457 children, have been killed since Israel began a punishing bombing campaign following the horrific massacre of its civilians by Hamas militants October 7.
“From the earliest days of the unprecedented hostilities in the Gaza Strip, UNICEF has been forthright on the need for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, for the aid to flow and for children abducted to be released,” he said. “Like many others, we have pleaded for the killing of children to stop.”
While Washington has thrown its support behind Israel, it has also called for the protection of civilians and pushed for the opening of humanitarian aid into Gaza as the Israeli military expands its ground campaign aiming to uproot Hamas, which is a U.S.-designated terrorist group.
Since Israel partially lifted its blockade of Gaza on October 21, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says 143 trucks carrying food, water, and medical supplies have entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing with Egypt.
“Before this escalation, there were 500 trucks on average going in every working day. So about 22 days per month,” said Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesperson.
“The equivalent of 50 trucks of that daily average of 500 was fuel,” he said.
OCHA says that none of the trucks entering Gaza now contain fuel, which is needed to produce electricity at Gaza’s only power plant, to back up hospital generators, keep water desalination plants running, and prevent Gaza’s few remaining bakeries from shutting down.
“Fuel is not just a luxury commodity for fancy cars to drive around,” said Christian Lindmeier, spokesperson for the World Health Organization. “It is vital for the water supply. It is vital for the ambulances, for the hospitals to operate and many other instances to make life in Gaza a little bit lighter in this ongoing humanitarian catastrophe.”
Israel refuses to allow fuel to enter Gaza because it classifies diesel as a “dual use” good that can be used by Hamas for military purposes. It also argues that Hamas has stockpiled large quantities of fuel which it is hoarding for military use.
It also insists that no cease-fire is possible while it is engaged in an existential struggle against an organization that is committed to the killing of Jews and the destruction of Israel.
“Children are absolutely dying because there are situations where they do not have the medical supplies, the medical care they need … who have been impacted by the bombardments and should have had their lives saved,” said Elder.
“Without humanitarian access, the deaths from the attacks could be the tip of the iceberg,” he said, warning that deaths will increase substantially if hospitals continue to be deprived of the medicine they need, “if incubators start to fail, and hospitals go dark for lack of electricity.”
The WHO says 130 premature infants are dependent on incubators, 61 percent of whom are in the northern part of Gaza, where Israeli bombardment is most intense. It says 50,000 women are pregnant, with an average of 180 births a day, and 350,000 people with non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, need urgent medical care.
“None of this can happen without medical supplies, without electricity,” said Lindmeier. “This is an imminent public health catastrophe that looms with mass displacement, with overcrowding, with damage to water and sanitation infrastructure.”
Elder said UNICEF has sent 25 trucks across the border into Gaza since October 21. He said eight trucks, which arrived in Gaza Monday, were carrying water, hygiene and medical supplies, but no fuel.
“There is a lot of frustration and anger from agencies because we have so, so many trucks at that border, so many containers full and unable to get into Gaza.
“We know that even if we cannot get that cease-fire that we have so desperately been calling for from day one, that at least we must get these people the basics that any humans deserve — water, medicines.”
“Agencies are getting some in, UNICEF is getting some in,” he said. “But it remains a drop. It remains unacceptable.”