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Gaza: Relief over rescued hostages as Tedros warns of ‘ocean of need’

A wounded Palestinian to be treated at Nasser Medical Complex in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (file)
A wounded Palestinian to be treated at Nasser Medical Complex in the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (file)

Gaza: Relief over rescued hostages as Tedros warns of ‘ocean of need’

Peace and Security

Amid reports on Monday that two hostages have been rescued during a raid by Israeli special forces in Rafah City, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza is still not being met with anywhere near sufficient aid relief. 

“So far, we have delivered 447 metric tonnes of medical supplies to Gaza, but it’s a drop in the ocean of need, which continues to grow every day,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Hospitals in crisis

Only 15 out of 36 hospitals are still “partially or minimally functional” in the enclave, Tedros said, amid fresh reports of continuing intense bombardment by the Israeli military in southern Gaza that accompanied the rescue mission of two Israeli male hostages from the second floor of a building in Rafah.

“Health workers are doing their best in impossible circumstances,” the WHO Director-General continued, echoing widespread concerns among the international community about recent attacks on Rafah, “where the majority of Gaza’s population has fled from the destruction to the north”.

According to Israeli authorities, about 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza; these reportedly include fatalities whose bodies are being withheld.

During a humanitarian pause in the fighting from 24 to 30 November, 86 Israeli and 24 foreign national hostages were released.

Fresh appeals 

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“WHO continues to call for safe access for humanitarian personnel and supplies, we continue to call for hostages held by Hamas to be released, and we continue to call for a ceasefire,” Tedros said in his address to the World Governments Summit in Dubai.

In a related development over the weekend, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, reported that a food shipment for 1.1 million people remained “stuck at (an) Israeli port” owing to recent restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities.

“Some 1,049 containers of rice, flour, chickpeas, sugar and cooking oil are stuck as families in Gaza face hunger and starvation,” the UN agency said in a social media post.

Rafah torment

Some 1.5 million people now shelter in Rafah, close to the border with Egypt. This is a full six times the pre-war population, UNWRA noted, in its latest update on the war, which was prompted by Hamas-led terror attacks that left some 1,200 Israeli and foreign nationals killed and more than 250 taken hostage on 7 October.

Along with “increased” airstrikes in Rafah, the UN agency reported that intense deadly fighting has continued in and around Khan Younis further north, with damage to UNWRA’s largest shelter in the south of the enclave, the Khan Younis Training Centre, which has pushed thousands more Palestinians towards Rafah.

UNRWA “will not be able to effectively or safely run operations from a city under assault from the Israeli army”, it said, citing Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in Gaza.

Highlighting the desperate need for more humanitarian aid deliveries into the Strip, the UN agency noted that the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel had remained closed since Wednesday 7 February because protesters had continued to block it.

“Critical supplies to meet food insecurity continue to be blocked due to lack of Israeli authorities’ approvals to move flour from the Israeli port of Ashdod into the Gaza Strip,” the UNWRA situation report also noted.