Israel creates massive obstacles to aid distribution in Gaza - UN chief

 People unload humanitarian aid from a truck at the Rafah crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, on Nov. 2, 2023. [Xinhua]

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that the Israeli offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza.

Many people are measuring the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation in Gaza based on the number of trucks allowed to unload aid across the Egyptian-Gaza border. This is a mistake, said Guterres.

"The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza," he told reporters.

An effective aid operation in Gaza requires security, staff who can work in safety, logistical capacity, and the resumption of commercial activity. These four elements do not exist, he said.

Security for aid delivery is absent. The intense Israeli bombardment and active combat in densely populated urban areas throughout Gaza threaten the lives of civilians and humanitarian aid workers alike. The United Nations waited 71 days for Israel finally to allow aid to enter Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing. The crossing was then hit while aid trucks were in the area, he said.

The humanitarian operation requires staff who can live and work in safety. Some 136 UN staff members in Gaza have been killed in 75 days -- something unprecedented in the history of the United Nations. Nowhere is safe in Gaza, said Guterres.

Every truck that arrives at Kerem Shalom and Rafah border crossings must be unloaded, and its cargo re-loaded for distribution across Gaza. The United Nations has a limited and insufficient number of trucks available for this. Many of the UN vehicles and trucks were destroyed or left behind following forced, hurried evacuation from northern Gaza. But the Israeli authorities have not allowed any additional trucks to operate in Gaza. This is massively hampering the aid operation, he said.

Delivering in the north is extremely dangerous due to active conflict, unexploded ordnance, and heavily damaged roads. Everywhere, frequent communications blackouts make it virtually impossible to coordinate the distribution of aid, and to let people know how to access it, he added.

The resumption of commercial activities is essential. Shelves are empty, wallets are empty, stomachs are empty. Just one bakery is operating in the whole of Gaza, said Guterres. "I urge the Israeli authorities to lift restrictions on commercial activity immediately. We are ready to scale up our cash grant support to vulnerable families -- the most effective form of humanitarian aid. But in Gaza, there is very little to buy."

Over the last weeks and days, there has been no significant change in the way the war has been unfolding in Gaza. There is no effective protection of civilians. Intense Israeli bombardment and ground operations continue. More than 20,000 Palestinians have reportedly been killed, and the vast majority of them were women and children. Meanwhile, Hamas and other Palestinian factions continue to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, he said.

Some 1.9 million people -- 85 percent of Gaza's population -- have been forced from their homes. The health system is on its knees. Hospitals in southern Gaza are dealing with at least three times their capacity. In the north, they are barely operational.

According to the World Food Programme, widespread famine looms. More than half a million people, a quarter of the population, are facing what experts classify as catastrophic levels of hunger. Four out of five of the hungriest people anywhere in the world are in Gaza. And clean water is at a trickle, he said.

"In these desperate conditions, it is little wonder that many people cannot wait for humanitarian distributions and are grabbing whatever they can from aid trucks. As I warned, public order is at risk of breaking down," he said.

Israel began its military operation in response to the horrific terror attacks launched by Hamas on Oct. 7. Nothing can possibly justify those attacks or the brutal abduction of some 250 hostages. But at the same time, these violations of international humanitarian law can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people, and they do not free Israel from its own legal obligations under international law, he said.

A humanitarian cease-fire is the only way to begin to meet the desperate needs of people in Gaza and end their ongoing nightmare, he said.

Guterres expressed the hope that Friday's Security Council resolution that calls for the immediate acceleration of aid deliveries in Gaza, may help a humanitarian cease-fire finally to happen.

"I hope that today's resolution will make people understand that a humanitarian cease-fire is indeed something that is needed if we want humanitarian aid to be effectively delivered," he said.

The UN chief stressed the importance of the two-state solution.

"Looking at the longer term, I am extremely disappointed by comments from senior Israeli officials that put the two-state solution into question. As difficult as it might appear today, the two-state solution, in line with UN resolutions, international law and previous agreements, is the only path to sustainable peace," said Guterres. "Any suggestion otherwise denies human rights, dignity and hope to the Palestinian people, fueling rage that reverberates far beyond Gaza. It also denies a safe future for Israel."

The spillover of the war in Gaza is already happening, he warned.

The occupied West Bank is at boiling point. Daily exchanges of fire across the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel pose a grave risk to regional stability. Attacks and threats to shipping on the Red Sea by the Houthis in Yemen are impacting shipping with the potential to affect global supply chains, he said.

Beyond the immediate region, the conflict is polarizing communities, feeding hate speech and fueling extremism. All this poses a significant and growing threat to global peace and security, he warned.

"As the conflict intensifies and the horror grows, we will continue to do our part. We will not give up. But at the same time, it is imperative that the international community speak with one voice -- for peace, for the protection of civilians, for an end to suffering, and for a commitment to the two-state solution, backed with action," he said.