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‘We have to get aid in, there’s no plan B’: UN warns on Gaza siege

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The UN is pressing Israel to urgently agree to safe corridors for the movement of Palestinians in Gaza and the delivery of aid to the blockaded strip as it estimates that 1mn people have fled their homes since Israeli forces launched their offensive against Hamas.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the Financial Times on Monday that the organisation had been negotiating with Israel for days to secure assurances that “we can deliver that aid safely, deliberately, repetitively and reliably”.

“I hope to hear some good news in the course of the day . . . to enable us to take aid from Rafah [the crossing with Egypt] into Gaza,” Griffiths said. “We need to be able to move quickly and at scale.”

He warned that the consequences of not getting aid in urgently would mean “people are going to waste away and die”, saying: “We have to get aid in, there’s no plan B.”

The UN’s focus is getting supplies into southern Gaza through the Rafah crossing, the only entry point into the strip that is not controlled by Israel.

Israel’s order on Friday to 1.1mn Palestinians — about half of Gaza’s population — to leave Gaza’s more populated north has triggered an exodus as people seek sanctuary in the south. UN officials have warned that “an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding under our eyes”.

When asked why aid had not yet reached Gaza, Griffiths said: “Because of the need for safety and security of the people who need it.”

UN-flagged fuel trucks moved towards the Rafah border crossing © Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

“We are asking for safe corridors for aid to get in, and safe corridors for people to go places where they can get aid,” Griffiths said. “We need Israel to respect international law and protect civilians . . . that particularly includes the movement of people; movements of people cannot be impeded by bombing or any other military activity, by either side.”

Griffiths said Israel was discussing with the UN the possible establishment of “safe zones”. But he added this was a “concept that carries a lot of connotations with the United Nations” because of questions about who guarantees security in such areas.

The UN would need to confirm that any such areas were safe; that they were accepted as such by the warring parties and that people could move there “voluntarily and reliably”, he said.

“We need to be clear — there are no places that we are aware of in southern Gaza that are so-called safe zones,” Griffiths said.

Griffiths said Cairo had told the UN it would allow aid in through the Rafah crossing but would not let Palestinians cross into Egypt.

Israel-Hamas war

“Egypt has been very constructive right from the get-go to say they are happy to let aid go in through Rafah,” Griffiths said. “What Egypt is very, very clear about . . . is that they will not allow Palestinians from Gaza into Egypt, because they fear for a great influx which they will then have to take responsibility for, for an indefinite period.”

The UN has been liaising with the US, European governments and other countries. US secretary of state Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Monday for talks with Israeli officials as he continues a flurry of diplomacy in the region.

Israel has laid siege to Gaza, bombarding the strip, which is home to 2.3mn people, with air strikes and artillery since Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the coastal enclave, launched a deadly attack on southern Israel on October 7.

The Israeli military has said Hamas’s multipronged assault killed more than 1,400 people and that the group also took 199 hostages.

Palestinian health officials said on Monday that Israel’s bombardment had killed 2,750 people, surpassing casualties recorded during the 50-day Israel-Gaza war of 2014.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief: ‘There are no places that we are aware of in southern Gaza that are so-called safe zones’ © Martial Trezzini/EPA-EFE

Israel has also cut water and electricity into Gaza. Israel said on Sunday that water supplies had partially resumed in southern parts of the strip. However, Palestinians need fuel to operate water pumps.

Griffiths, who expects to travel to Egypt and Israel this week, said the UN was focusing on getting food, health supplies, water and fuel for water into Gaza.

A critical problem was that “in most of our crises around the world, whether you are talking about Ukraine or Sudan, people run away from conflict, and run out of their country if necessary. In Gaza that’s not possible,” he said.

He described the talks with Israel as “constructive,” adding that “they are not shying away from tough negotiations with us”.

Griffiths also raised concerns about the lack of planning for when the fighting eventually ends, making parallels with the chaotic aftermath of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas, which is deeply embedded in Palestinian society, but western and Arab diplomats have expressed worries about what comes next.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to the south of Gaza, let alone the north. and perhaps more or as importantly — and we saw this so vividly in Iraq — we don’t know what the plan is for . . . when the fighting has to stop,” Griffiths said.

“We got that wrong in Iraq and elsewhere, and we definitely need attention to that now. This is not a day after problem, this is a today problem.”

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