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Israel’s decision to block aid into northern Gaza "an outrage" and “a death sentence” for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians on the brink of famine

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ActionAid has condemned Israel’s decision to block the United Nations Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) - the largest relief agency in Gaza - from delivering aid to the north - a move which it warns will push Palestinians further towards famine.  

Yesterday, UNRWA announced that Israel had barred it from delivering aid to northern Gaza with an Israeli official also announcing today that it will cease working with UNRWA entirely, further jeopardising an already beleaguered humanitarian system. Last week, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) warned that 70% of people are on the brink of famine in the north as ongoing hostilities, mass forced displacement, and restricted humanitarian access have exacerbated the situation for millions across Gaza.  

Israeli authorities continue to block thousands of tonnes of aid crossing the Rafah border, with Egyptian Red Crescent officials claiming that 2,400 trucks carrying lifesaving aid are sitting motionless in the Egyptian city of Al Arish, some 50 kilometres from Gaza, due to excessive red tape. An average of 165 trucks per day have made their way across the border in recent weeks – under a third of what UN officials say Gaza needs to prevent further death from malnutrition and starvation. Amidst the worsening food crisis in Gaza, UNRWA’s largest donor, the United States - which contributes around $400 million (£316 million) to its annual budget – announced last week that it was extending its temporary ban on funding until March 2025. And while other donors such as Sweden, Australia, Finland, and Canada have since restored funding to UNRWA, the UK – which contributed around £25 million annually – continues to withhold their support.  

Over the last few months, solar panels, metal tent poles, oxygen tanks, generators and water purification equipment are among the items Israeli authorities have rejected, impacting the ability of healthcare workers to perform routine medical procedures or treat patients facing severe malnutrition. One of these doctors is Dr Mohammed Obeid, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Al-Awda Hospital, ActionAid’s partner in northern Gaza. 

He said: “We have a problem [with] food and nutrition for patients. They [don’t] have [the] good vitamins and good protein and carbohydrates [needed] for their wounds to heal, because as you know we are suffering in the north... there is no food to eat. Also for the team. The team is exhausted, but we still do our best.  

“We have [had] a huge lack of human resources and also materials. We have a shortage in our team because many of the surgeons and medical staff and the other staff [went] to the South because they [were] afraid about the attack in the north. 

The rest of the team is still in Al-Awda Hospital. We do our best to treat our patients and to help our people. We have a shortage [of] antibiotics, [of] medication, analgesia, narcotics and also oxygen to run our OT [operation theatre].We have a problem [with] the electricity because the engine which we use to run Al-Awda Hospital and the [operation theatre] rooms need more [than] 900 litres of fuel daily and we don't have fuel. We have a shortage [of] oxygen and the anaesthesia drug which we need in the [operation theatre] rooms. We have a real problem [with] the device which we use on open fractures, because we have a shortage [of] this device in all of Gaza. We try to think out of the box and use other things and other instruments but there is a need for [it].” 

Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine said: “We are utterly horrified and outraged to see Israel pull the plug on the most vital lifeline for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza on the brink of famine right now. With severe hunger claiming children’s lives and severely malnourished women giving birth to stillborn babies, Israel’s decision to cease working with UNRWA is nothing short of a death sentence for those living through immense hunger and suffering. 

“UNRWA is the beating heart of the humanitarian response and the only agency with the ability to deliver aid across Gaza at scale. Yet Western leaders have neither condemned this decision nor compelled Israel to act meaningfully in the face of imminent famine in the north. Lives that are hanging in the balance cannot wait a day longer. The international community must oppose this disastrous decision, fully and immediately restore funding to UNRWA, and push for a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.”