Vital Aid Fails to Reach Gazans as Security Void Grows

Smoke billowed over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a bombardment.
Smoke billowed over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a bombardment.

Summary

Humanitarian aid deliveries in the Gaza Strip have slowed to a trickle, as security across the embattled enclave deteriorates.

Humanitarian aid deliveries in the Gaza Strip have slowed to a trickle, as security across the embattled enclave deteriorates, leaving 2.2 million Palestinians faced with spreading famine, disease and desperation.

Efforts to provide lifesaving aid such as food, medicine and other essentials have been paralyzed by an expanding security void, extensive looting of aid trucks, Israeli military strikes on humanitarian assets, Israeli restrictions on the flow of aid into the northern Gaza Strip, and protests by Israeli activists who have blocked trucks from delivering aid, according to United Nations officials and aid groups.

On Tuesday, the U.N.’s World Food Program—one of the two main agencies responsible for distributing food in Gaza—said it was temporarily suspending aid deliveries to the northern Gaza Strip after hungry Palestinians looted several trucks driving through the area.

“A large-scale expansion of the flow of assistance to northern Gaza is urgently needed to avoid disaster," the World Food Program warned.

An average of 65 trucks a day reached Gaza between Feb. 9 and 18, compared with around 150 trucks daily in the weeks prior, according to data from the U.N., which oversees the humanitarian response in Gaza. On one day last week, just four trucks were able to enter. Before the war, around 600 commercial and aid trucks arrived in Gaza each day.

Humanitarian aid enters Gaza through two crossings in the south of the strip near Rafah, one on the Egyptian border and one on the border with Israel, known as Kerem Shalom.

The collapse of law and order within Gaza is affecting aid deliveries through both crossings, with violent assaults on trucks and their drivers becoming more frequent this month, according to U.N. officials. The near-daily attacks have compromised the ability of the U.N. and aid groups to carry out humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip, they said.

The U.N. is sending fewer trucks into the strip as a result.

The looting of aid trucks has increasingly become a problem in Gaza, largely because of the shortfall in basic goods. But until last week, violent attacks on truck drivers and U.N. staff were rare.

U.N. officials said it was incumbent upon the Israeli military to provide security for the distribution of aid across the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s four-month-old campaign against Hamas has created a widespread humanitarian crisis.

“The Israeli forces have a responsibility to enable humanitarian operations across Gaza by ensuring safety, facilitating access to all areas in need, including the north, preserving law and order and allowing basic operating requirements of humanitarians like communications equipment," the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the main U.N. agency providing aid in Gaza, said Wednesday.

Israeli officials didn’t respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The increasingly dire situation at the enclave has fueled escalating scenes of desperation, with young children stuffing flour that has been strewn in the dirt into their pockets.On Monday, Shukri Filfil, 21, a content creator, said he went to one aid point in Gaza to try to get a bag of flour.

“The moment the trucks arrived, people attacked it and started taking flour," he said.Israel declared war on Oct. 7 after Hamas militants launched a deadly cross-border attack where 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 240 others were taken hostage, according to Israeli officials. Israel has vowed to root out Hamas from the Gaza Strip and secure the release of about 130 hostages still believed to be held by Palestinian militants.

More than 29,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, who don’t distinguish between civilians and fighters. The U.N. says that 1.7 million Palestinians—nearly 80 percent of the Gaza Strip population—have been forced from their homes and now rely on humanitarian aid to survive.

Most of the displaced Palestinians live in temporary shelters and tents near the Egypt border, where Israel has vowed to launch a new military campaign into the southern city of Rafah in the coming weeks. The U.S. and other world leaders have called on Israel to hold off on the new military assault until they take steps to safely move the estimated 1.5 million civilians sheltering there out of the area.

Israel has agreed to allow 200 aid trucks to enter Gaza each day. In December, Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom border crossing, but no trucks have crossed into Gaza since Sunday, according to a U.N. official.

The flow of aid there has also been hampered by protests in recent weeks. The protesters, a mix of right-wing Israelis, military reservists and relatives of hostages believed to be held in Gaza, have vowed to block aid into Gaza until all those held by Palestinian militants are released. The Israeli military didn’t respond to requests for comment on how it was handling the protests.

Israel has severely constricted the flow of aid into northern Gaza. The U.N. said that the Israeli military had allowed just 12 of 77 humanitarian missions into the Gaza Strip between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15. Those restrictions have increased the sense of desperation in the northern Gaza Strip, where aid groups are warning of an increasingly dire situation for children.

“The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza," said Ted Chaiban, Unicef deputy executive director for humanitarian action and supply operations.

Anat Peled contributed to this article.

Write to Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com and Margherita Stancati at margherita.stancati@wsj.com

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