Gaza aid delivery hampered by Israeli attacks on police, rising chaos

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JERUSALEM — The volume of aid delivered to Gaza has collapsed in recent weeks as Israeli airstrikes have targeted police officers who guard the convoys, U.N. officials say, exposing them to looting by criminal gangs and desperate civilians.

On average, only 62 trucks have entered Gaza each day over the past two weeks, according to figures from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — well below the 200 trucks per day Israel has committed to facilitating. Just four trucks crossed on two separate days this week. Aid groups, which have warned of a looming famine, estimate that some 500 trucks are needed each day to meet people’s basic needs.

After a string of Israeli attacks on members of Gaza’s Hamas-run civilian police force, officers withdrew earlier this month from the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing with Israel. Since they left, trucks have been attacked in the crossing’s holding area, according to U.N. humanitarian coordinator James McGoldrick. Drivers have been shot at, attacked with axes and box cutters, and had their windows smashed, he said.

Humanitarian officials said police have also stopped serving as security guards for aid convoys, paralyzing deliveries in the enclave, where some hungry families have resorted to eating weeds and animal feed and profiteers are selling stolen food at astronomical rates on the black market.

Gaza’s desperate hunger: Families struggle to fend off starvation

“With the departure of police escorts it has been virtually impossible for the U.N. or anyone else … to safely move assistance in Gaza because of criminal gangs,” U.S. Ambassador David Satterfield, appointed by President Biden to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza, said Friday.

“Because of the attacks on the U.N. convoys and others, the value of things has risen, which only feeds a vicious cycle to empower more criminal activities,” he added.

Satterfield said Israeli forces had killed as many as nine Palestinian police officers involved in protecting aid convoys, including a commander. Police include “Hamas elements” he said, but also people who are politically unaffiliated and remnants of Palestinian Authority forces.

Asked if police guarding aid convoys were a target, the Israel Defense Forces said: “The IDF is operating to dismantle Hamas military capabilities. Elements involved in military activity may be targeted.”

Three police officers were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah on Feb. 10, according to Rafah governorate police and eyewitnesses, as they were driving to monitor the distribution of food aid in Tal al-Sultan, west of Rafah.

Crowds gathered by the Rafah border crossing as an aid convoy entered Gaza from Egypt on Jan. 30. (Video: AP)

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said that eight other Palestinian police officers were killed during the previous week. The Washington Post could not independently confirm the figures.

The United Nations is attempting to obtain assurances from Israel that police won’t be attacked, according to McGoldrick.

The slowdown in aid delivery comes amid increasingly dire warnings from humanitarian experts that Gaza’s 2.2 million inhabitants are on the brink of famine. The situation is most precarious in the north of the Strip, where aid groups withdrew months ago, and an estimated 300,000 civilians remain.

One in every 6 children in the north is suffering from acute malnutrition, according to a World Health Organization nutritional analysis, with 3 percent of them exhibiting “severe wasting” — putting them at risk of death unless they receive urgent medical treatment.

Ted Chaiban, deputy director for humanitarian action at UNICEF, warned this week that Gaza is “poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths.”

All aid that enters Gaza must first undergo screenings by Egyptian and Israeli officials. Approved shipments are taken to the unloading area at Kerem Shalom, then transferred to Gazan trucks before making their way out of the crossing’s blue gates.

“Many of these trucks, before they even get 200 meters, are stopped by cars and then attacked and looted,” McGoldrick said. “We’re lucky to get some of the material to warehouses.” Getting the food from there to the north is even more difficult.

Convoys run the risk of being overrun on the journey, he added, describing one driver he met on a trip to Gaza this month who had lost his voice from screaming at looters: “This is for the people of Gaza. This is for Gaza City, it’s not for here,” he recounted telling them.

“It made no difference,” McGoldrick said.

The World Food Program announced it was forced to stop food deliveries to the north this week, citing the “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order.” UNRWA has not been able to make any deliveries to northern Gaza since Jan. 23, said Tamara Alrifai, its director of external relations.

Internally displaced Palestinians rushed for bottled water loaded onto aid trucks in Khan Younis on Nov. 21. (Video: Reuters)

The agency and its partners are lobbying Israel to open other crossings to increase the flow of aid.

At a U.N. Security Council session Thursday, Tor Wennesland, the Norwegian diplomat who is the United Nations’ special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told members there was “no time to lose.” He chronicled “acute shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine” and a “near-total breakdown of law and order.”

Israel is trying to undo UNRWA, but few options remain for Gaza aid

“Keeping Gaza on a drip feed not only deprives the desperate population of lifesaving support, it drives even further chaos on the ground and impedes even further humanitarian delivery,” he said, calling for an immediate cease-fire.

“The idea that a ‘humanitarian pause’ is needed for aid to enter Gaza is a complete misnomer,” Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, posted Wednesday on X. “The aid is already inside. The UN needs to distribute it.”

“We are ready and willing to facilitate the entrance of tens if not hundreds of trucks every day,” Col. Moshe Tetro, head of the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration for Gaza, told reporters this week.

But the drop in the number of trucks is also due, in part, to the now-routine protests by Israelis at Kerem Shalom, McGoldrick said. The protesters have vowed to block the crossing until Hamas releases the remaining Israeli hostages, and they have succeeded some days in shutting it down.

“If there’s a disruption on that side, or there’s a disruption on the other side where we are because of insecurity, the result’s the same: We don’t get stuff out of the door,” McGoldrick said.

On Thursday, demonstrators at Kerem Shalom set up a giant bouncy castle at the entrance where aid trucks are supposed to pass through. In a dawn video distributed Thursday on WhatsApp, organizer Yosef de Brasser, 22, urged others to join him.

“Get ready, there will be inflatables, cotton candy, and popcorn and plushies,” he said. “We are preparing for the people of Israel, come.”

On the other side of the border, Palestinian families described a grinding struggle for survival.

Mahmoud Ibrahim, whose family is in Sheikh Radwan, north of Gaza City, said he had been giving his four children bread made out of barley once used for animal feed, but even that is running out. He has also foraged for khoubiza, a leafy green that grows wild in the area. “I have been surviving on it for the past three days, as it was the only option available,” he said.

Haya Marwan, 23, said her family in the northern Jabalya refugee camp has also been subsisting on khoubiza and other edible plants. Theft is rampant, she said, with empty homes stripped bare.

“The situation has descended into severe chaos,” Marwan said, adding that armed men threaten anyone carrying food. “I’ve heard of shootings by bandits,” she said. A bag of flour that used to cost $8 now goes for about $275.

“People are left to fend for themselves,” she said. “While we are still breathing, we are far from living.”

Palestinians unloaded aid from trucks on a beach near a camp for displaced people in Rafah on Jan. 25. (Video: Reuters)

Balousha reported from Amman, Jordan, and DeYoung from Washington. Heba Farouk Mahfouz in Cairo and Cate Brown in Washington contributed to this report.

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