A United Nations official called the suffering of people in Gaza on Thursday “absolutely horrible,” as Israel continued pummeling the crowded, blockaded territory in retaliation for the deadly weekend incursion by Hamas, the armed Palestinian organization that controls the enclave.
Water and electricity have been cut off, Adnan Abu Hasna, the media adviser for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees, said in a phone interview from Gaza City. The only power plant in Gaza shut down on Wednesday because the blockade enforced by Egypt and Israel has prevented shipments of fuel.
Hospitals were running short on fuel to keep backup generators running, he said, compounding fears of a humanitarian disaster as patients pour in for treatment amid Israeli airstrikes that have killed hundreds. And without reliable electricity, residents had no means of storing food.
“We are facing a huge disaster,” he said.
After Hamas assailants killed at least 1,200 people in Israel and took an estimated 150 hostages, Israeli authorities have vowed that no humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza. Egypt, which also borders Gaza, has not indicated whether it will allow emergency aid shipments into the territory. On Thursday, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry called on countries and agencies to send any aid to Gaza to the El Arish International Airport, near its border crossing with Gaza, without specifying if or when the aid would be allowed in.
U.S. officials have said they are talking to Israel and Egypt about opening a channel for humanitarian aid, but have refrained from taking a hard position on the issue. Jordan has sent a delivery of humanitarian supplies intended for Gaza to Egypt, a Jordanian official said, but it was unclear whether the aid would be allowed to enter the blockaded enclave.
Even before the most recent violence, the Gaza Strip had been struggling under the 16-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, which restricts the import of goods and prevents most people from leaving the territory.
An estimated two million Palestinians live in Gaza, and at least 338,934 people have been displaced following the recent Israeli airstrikes, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. Around half of them have been placed in schools and shelters run by Unrwa, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Mr. Abu Hasna said, and the agency did not have enough supplies to help them all.
“We have four-five days worth supply of fuel left” to keep aid operations going, he said. “The shelling is not stopping.”
The Norwegian Refugee Council relief agency on Thursday called for a humanitarian corridor to let in supplies and aid workers. “We must be enabled to bring lifesaving assistance to the people of Gaza as quickly as possible,” said Jan Egeland, the group’s secretary general.
He also called for a pause in shelling, saying: “Aid workers cannot do their jobs while bombs are falling everywhere.” Eleven U.N. workers and five members of the international Red Cross and Red Crescent have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since Saturday, according to humanitarian officials.
Aaron Boxerman and Nada Rashwan contributed reporting.