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The aid situation in Gaza is near collapse

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The aid situation in Gaza is near collapse

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In recent days, deliveries of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, both in the north and in the south, have almost stopped, and this is increasing desperation and cases of malnutrition among the civilian population. The reason is that it has become impossible to maintain order: the trucks with aid are unable to reach their destinations because they are attacked by armed gangs or more simply by hungry and desperate people.

According to various international officials dealing with humanitarian aid, this is because in recent weeks the Israeli army has bombed police positions in Gaza that are supposed to protect humanitarian convoys, causing their withdrawal. With no one to protect the trucks, delivering aid is nearly impossible. Israel denies the charges and claims that the targeted policemen were part of Hamas.

This week in the north of the Strip, that is, the part of the territory where the bulk of the attacks by the Israeli army have already been carried out, the World Food Program (WFP), the UN agency that deals with food assistance, decided to suspend its food aid plan because it was now impossible to protect the aid trucks. Also for this Thursday the British government parachuted humanitarian aid into this area for the first time.

In the south, where the bulk of Gaza’s population has taken refuge to escape the Israeli invasion and where fighting is still ongoing, the situation is even more paradoxical. In theory there would be two open gates, controlled by Israel and Egypt, through which Israel had promised to let in 200 trucks of humanitarian aid per day. The gates are those of Rafah and Kerem Shalom. Before the war began, an average of 500 trucks of food and other goods entered Gaza every day.

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For days the entry of trucks has been significantly reduced and in some cases has practically stopped. Second calculations of the Washington Post, in the past two weeks an average of 62 trucks per day had entered the Strip, against the promised 200. In the last week, then, there were two days in which just four trucks entered, and one day (19 February) in which none entered.

Currently in front of the Kerem Shalom gate there are 450 trucks full of humanitarian aid waiting to enter.

The main reason for the delays are still the attacks: after a few hundred meters beyond the gate to enter the Gaza Strip, the trucks are surrounded by people armed with guns, knives or box cutters, or even unarmed, who take away the load of food, flour, bottled water. The convoys should be protected by the Gaza police, but since the beginning of February the Israeli army has carried out various attacks against the positions of the officers in charge of protecting the trucks, killing several policemen, who then retreated and left the Humanitarian convoys undefended.

David Satterfield, the ambassador appointed by the US government to coordinate the delivery of aid, said that “since the police withdrew it has become virtually impossible for the UN or anyone else to deliver assistance to Gaza safely, due to the criminal gangs”.

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The Israeli army claims that the attacks were aimed at Hamas men, and indeed it is plausible that a good number of police in the Gaza Strip are affiliated with the group, which ruled the territory before the start of the war. But, as Satterfield said, there are also many elements in the police who have no political affiliations or who are part of Fatah, the more moderate Palestinian party that governed the Strip until 2007. Furthermore, it is difficult for the army to miss the fact that targeting the police forces responsible for protecting humanitarian convoys would have put deliveries at risk.

Palestinians attack a truck carrying humanitarian aid in Rafah on February 18 (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Added to this are two other problems: first of all, for about a fortnight now in front of the Kerem Shalom gate there has been gathered a group of extremist Israeli protesters trying to block trucks entering Gaza. The protesters do not want any humanitarian aid to enter Gaza until Hamas has freed all the Israeli hostages, and have tried several times to physically prevent the passage of vehicles.

Furthermore, some credible reports have come out in recent days (including one verified and CNN with documents and satellite images) according to which the Israeli army did not limit itself to bombing the Gaza police protecting the trucks, but on some occasions hit the trucks themselves.

The sharp slowdown in aid has led to increased hunger and desperation among Gaza’s civilian population, whose situation was already terrifying. In the north of the Strip, 15.6 percent of children under two years of age are currently severely malnourished; in the south, where at least some aid is still arriving, 5 percent.

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