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Gazans on tenterhooks awaiting news of ceasefire call

Northern Gaza lies in ruins after months of bombardments.
© WFP/Ali Jadallah
Northern Gaza lies in ruins after months of bombardments.

Gazans on tenterhooks awaiting news of ceasefire call

Peace and Security

Amid growing international calls for restraint from Israel in Gaza and reports on Wednesday of further deadly strikes overnight, UN humanitarians underscored the ongoing devastating impact of the war and the need to ensure reliable aid supply lines to people in desperate need in the enclave.

One third of all the families who live here have children under five, so many babies, so many kids,” said Matthew Hollingworth, UN World Food Programme (WFP) Palestine Country Director, speaking from a school in Deir Al-Balah, run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.

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What they need is school, though what they need is more clean water, what they need is more stability. They need a normal life,” the veteran aid official insisted in a video post on X.

Echoing those concerns, UNRWA noted that there have been more than 360 attacks on its facilities since the beginning of the war. In addition to the tens of thousands of victims, vital infrastructure has been impacted, including the agency’s water well in the city of Khan Younis.

Getting the precious water source up and running again will require clearing tonnes of debris which the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has found to contain “a lot of dangerous materials and shrapnel”, said communications officer Louise Wateridge, “which means that instead of coming in with bulldozers and clearing it, it all needs to be removed piece by piece, safely.”

Finding refuge at school

The Al Qastal UNRWA school in the central Gaza Strip is now home to around 2,400 families who have been displaced by nearly seven months of war in Gaza. 

“People come from all over the Strip, from Gaza City itself, from Khan Younis next door, from all of the different neighbourhoods where people have been impacted because of the war,” Mr. Hollingworth explained, his comments coming amid unconfirmed reports that two children died in an overnight Israeli strike on a house in Rafah, with more killed when an apartment block was hit in Gaza City.

While deep concerns persist about a possible Israeli invasion of Rafah – which UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned on Tuesday “would be an unbearable escalation” – the WFP official noted that UN aid agencies along with international and local relief partners have worked together successfully to provide lifesaving assistance further north. 

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In the case of Al Qastal School, assistance includes food and special nutritional supplements for babies and infants to ensure healthy growth, Mr. Hollingworth explained.

Aid access frustration continues

UN aid coordination office OCHA reported that Israeli authorities blocked or excessively delayed the passage of three quarters of all UN-coordinated aid missions to areas requiring coordination across Gaza on Monday.

"One of those missions went to northern Gaza following full coordination with the Israeli authorities, but the team was forced to wait for a combined time of more than nine hours before departing on the way north and on the way back to Rafah."

"Such delays put humanitarian missions in jeopardy and humanitarian workers in harm’s way as fighting between Palestinian armed groups and Israeli forces often takes place near checkpoints."

OCHA also reported that when upon returning, the same mission collected the body of a boy who had apparently been killed near the checkpoint.

West Bank demolition update

In a related development and a sign of the worsening tinderbox situation in the wider Middle East, the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, published new data from the occupied West Bank, showing that demolition of Palestinian property and displacement continues unabated.

The latest data from OCHA indicated that up to 22 April, more than 380 structures have been demolished in West Bank governorates, uprooting 650 people.

If the destruction continues at this rate, by the end of the year, a record 1,500 properties face being razed, the highest number since OCHA began compiling data in 2009. 

Jerusalem governorate saw the highest level of damage, with 80 buildings demolished and 115 people displaced.

Andrea De Domenico, Head of Office for OCHA in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said that since 
7 October, Israeli forces have destroyed the homes of 1,765 Palestinians across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. 

This is more than the number of displaced people in any previous full year.

"Historically, displacement was mostly the result of demolitions due to lack of permits, which are rarely granted to Palestinians. More recently, it is the result of operations carried out by Israeli forces in areas where permits aren't required, such as the refugee camps of Nur Shams, Tulkarm, and Jenin," he said.

New scale of operations

"These operations have involved shoulder-fired projectiles, airstrikes, exchanges of fire, fatalities and widespread destruction, including homes and essential infrastructure like roads, water, and electricity networks. This is not something we have seen before at this scale."

The implications are vast, he added, with families losing access to their livelihoods. Some 43 per cent of those displaced are children.

"We are working hard to address these needs as a matter of priority, but humanitarian support is not the solution. Ultimately, such practices cannot continue", he said.

Toll keeps rising

Latest information from Gazan health authorities indicates that at least 34,568 Palestinians have been killed and 77,765 wounded in Israeli attacks on Gaza since 7 October. 

Some 1,250 people were killed in Hamas-led terror attacks on southern Israel that sparked the war, with more than 250 taken hostage. Dozens are still believed to be held captive in the enclave.


New York protest cleared

The development came as hundreds of police officers reportedly cleared a pro-Palestinian protest involving hundreds of people at Columbia University in New York late Tuesday.

At the authorities’ behest, police removed demonstrators who had barricaded themselves inside a building on campus, while there were reports of major clashes between rival demonstrators overnight on the campus of the University of California in Los Angeles.

Hours earlier, UN rights chief Volker Türk cautioned against any “heavy-handed steps” by some universities in the United States when dealing with Gaza war protests.

The Columbia university president had announced that dialogue with protesters had failed and the institution would not bow to demands to divest itself from Israel.