UNRWA says food distribution in Rafah suspended, citing insecurity

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees also cited a lack of supplies as Israel continues closure of border crossings.

Displaced Palestinians wait to receive United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) aid
More than half of the population in Gaza rely on food assistance, particularly from UNRWA [File: Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) says that food distribution in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah has been suspended due to a lack of supplies and insecurity in the densely populated city.

UNRWA said in a statement on X on Tuesday that only seven of its 24 health centres were operational and that it had not received any medical supplies in the past 10 days due to “closures/disruptions” at the Rafah and the Karem Abu Salem – known in Israel as Kerem Shalom – crossings into Gaza.

The humanitarian situation in the besieged territory has worsened since Israel seized and closed the Palestinian side of the Rafah land crossing with Egypt earlier this month.

The vital crossing, which had served as a major artery for life-saving aid and an entry and exit point for humanitarian workers, has been closed since May 7.

Al Jazeera’s Hind Al Khoudary, reporting from Deir el-Balah, said the halt in distribution would have “a catastrophic impact on Palestinians not only in Rafah, but … across the Gaza Strip”.

“We’re talking about more than two weeks with nothing entering the Gaza Strip,” she said, referring to the period since Israeli forces closed the Rafah crossing.

Senior UN aid official Edem Wosornu told the UN Security Council on Monday that there were insufficient supplies and fuel to provide any meaningful level of support to the people of Gaza.

“We are running out of words to describe what is happening in Gaza. We have described it as a catastrophe, a nightmare, as hell on earth. It is all of these, and worse,” she said.

She said that the closure of the Rafah crossing from Egypt had stopped the delivery of at least 82,000 tonnes of supplies, while access at Karem Abu Salem crossing  from Israel was limited due to “hostilities, challenging logistical conditions, and complex coordination procedures”.

In northern Gaza, where the UN warns a famine is imminent, Wosornu said the Beit Hanoon (Erez) crossing had been closed since May 9 and the newly opened Erez West crossing “is now being used for limited quantities of aid, but now areas in the vicinity of this crossing are also under evacuation orders” by Israel.

US ‘very concerned’

Israeli attacks on Tuesday have killed at least 7 Palestinians in Rafah, according to Al Khoudary. Across the enclave, more than 80 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks in the previous 24 hours alone, according to health authorities in the territory.

Before Israel began its assault on Rafah, the city was home to 1.5 million people, most of whom had been forcibly displaced from other parts of Gaza. Hundreds of thousands have since fled the city, according to the UN.

Israel has said it intends to broaden operations in Rafah despite US warnings of the risk of mass casualties in the southern city.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden’s administration remains “very concerned” about a major Israeli operation in Rafah.

Despite saying it disagrees with a full-scale Rafah operation, Biden’s administration has continued to provide Israel with military and diplomatic support.

World Health Organisation (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also called on Israel to lift restrictions on aid into Gaza on Tuesday.

“At a time when the people of Gaza are facing starvation, we urge Israel to lift the blockade and let aid through. Without more aid flowing into Gaza we cannot sustain our lifesaving support of hospitals,” WHO Tedros said at a news conference in Geneva.

He said the closure had affected six hospitals and nine primary health centres and caused 70 shelters to lose their medical facilities.

“Daily consultations have fallen by close to 40 percent and immunisation by 50 percent,” he said.

“Approximately 700 seriously ill patients who would have otherwise been evacuated for medical care elsewhere are stuck in a warzone.”

Gaza’s healthcare system has essentially collapsed since Israel began its offensive there after the October 7 Hamas attacks on southern Israel.

Tedros also said that al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza remained under siege since Sunday, with 148 hospital staff and 22 patients and the people accompanying in them trapped inside. He said that fighting near Kamal Adwan Hospital, also in northern Gaza, had jeopardised its ability to care for patients.

“These are the only two functional hospitals remaining in northern Gaza,” Tedros said. “Ensuring their ability to deliver health services is imperative.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Israeli forces attacked the emergency department and the main gates of the Kamal Adwan Hospital, Al Khoudary said. Patients and Palestinians who have sought refuge there are being evacuated, she added.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies