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Thousands of Palestinians broke into Gaza’s aid warehouses over the weekend, as a UN official warned that the current system for bringing humanitarian relief into the besieged territory was inadequate and “set up to fail”.
The looting of several UN storehouses, across central and southern Gaza, underlines the increasingly desperate conditions on the ground since Israel cut off the supply of electricity, fuel and all other goods to the 2.3mn in the enclave.
UNRWA, the biggest UN agency operating in Gaza, said on Sunday that flour and “basic survival items” such as hygiene supplies were taken in the incidents.
“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza,” said Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza. “People are scared, frustrated and desperate.” He added that the limited arrangements to resupply the enclave with humanitarian goods were inadequate by design.
Israel has bombarded the densely populated Gaza strip for three weeks since a Hamas-led attack on October 7, which the government said killed at least 1,400 Israelis.
Since the retaliatory strikes began, the death toll in Gaza has reached 8,005, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. The figure surpasses the total number of Gazans killed in all four previous wars between Israel and Hamas.
Israel denies there are shortages of food in Gaza and says it is planning to “dramatically increase” the amount of humanitarian assistance allowed into Gaza from Egypt in the coming week.
But so far only a trickle of humanitarian supplies have been allowed to enter from Egypt, and international officials say it is a tiny fraction of the quantities needed for the aid-dependent enclave.
UNRWA also said the massive displacement of people in Gaza has added “further burdens on crumbling public services”. An estimated 1mn residents have moved south following repeated orders by Israel to evacuate the north of the strip.
Abdel Rahman al-Kafarna, one of thousands who broke into an UNRWA warehouse in Deir al-Balah, said: “There is no aid, no food and no water, and no one is looking at us. We are calling on the world to see us because we are hungry and in need.”
Juliette Touma, UNRWA spokesperson, said the agency feared potential “intercommunal violence as tensions increased between displaced people and host communities in the south. Resources are already scarce.”
Some 84 trucks or an average of nine trucks a day have entered the territory since October 21. Touma said the convoys arriving from Egypt were “crumbs” in comparison with the daily average of 500 trucks that entered Gaza before the war.
The UN and aid agencies have complained about cumbersome and overcomplicated checks on aid deliveries. Under current arrangements, Israel inspects supply shipments, which must be unloaded then reloaded on to trucks. Drivers then take them into Gaza, often at night “under a sky full of air strikes”, said Touma.
Israel has banned the supply of fuel, which Touma said was the top requirement in Gaza, as it is needed to maintain hospital generators and power trucks delivering aid around the territory. Israel claims Hamas has been hoarding fuel stocks, an allegation the militant group denies.
Colonel Elad Goren, a senior officer at Cogat, the Israeli military body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, disputed the dire accounts of the situation in Gaza, saying there was enough food inside the besieged territory for “weeks to come”.
But as conditions deteriorate, some Gazans are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to survive.
“My children cannot sleep because they are hungry,” said Om Samer, who was also among the crowds that broke into the UNRWA warehouse in Deir al-Balah and who is displaced with her family from north Gaza. “There is no flour or water in the school where we have taken refuge. We just want food.”
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