The United Nations Relief and Workers Agency says it has halted aid deliveries to the besieged
Gaza Strip until the safety of aid workers can be guaranteed. The agency is calling for a permanent
Spokeswoman Elena Mancusi Materi tells VOA the decision was made after one of UNRWA's drivers was shot and killed by tank fire while on his way to an Israeli border crossing to pick up some goods.
"We are not willing to put at risk the security of our staff or of our contractors by asking them to move along in trucks and to go around the Strip," she said. "But, if somebody comes to our distribution center asking for food, of course, we will be giving them food. If somebody comes to one of our shelters to be hosted, of course we will host these people."
Mancusi says full operations will be resumed once UNRWA receives guarantees of safety from the Israeli authorities.
Speaking earlier from Jerusalem to journalists in Geneva, UNRWA chief spokesman Christopher Gunnis said UNRWA only has enough food on hand for several days.
UNRWA feeds 750,000 Palestinian refugees in Gaza. On any given day, about 20,000 people pick up their food rations from various distribution points. Given the vast needs, he says a daily three-hour suspension of hostilities is not enough for the aid agencies to help all the people of Gaza.
"We got access to a shelter in the north of Gaza that had been cut off for days," Gunnis said. "We were able to get down to the south and refuel some of our vehicles where we had not been able to get food, and we began the process of recovering some damaged food stocks, again in the north. Although there is a pause, of course on the ground, there remain Israeli positions, which means that the Gaza Strip is extremely difficult to move around."
International Committee of the Red Cross Deputy Director of Operations Dominique Stillhart says health workers, particularly from the Palestine Red Crescent Society, must be granted around-the-clock safe, unlimited passage to reach the wounded, treat them and take them to hospitals if needed.
"I just want to tell you that we have had cases of wounded people dying because ambulances could not reach them," he said.
Stillhart says during the three-hour break in hostilities Wednesday, Israeli officials finally allowed a Red Cross-Red Crescent team to go into houses shelled four days earlier in the Zaytun neighborhood of Gaza City.
He says the rescuers found 15 dead and 18 wounded, including found four small children too weak to stand on their own next to their dead mothers.
"And, this only 80 meters away from an IDF, Israeli military post who were clearly aware what was happening in these houses and they did not allow the Palestinian Crescent and ICRC to access these places," he said. "And, clearly failed ... their own obligation under international humanitarian law to care for the wounded regardless of which side, be they Palestinian or Israeli wounded."
The Israeli Ambassador in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, says his country respects international humanitarian law and did not fail in its humanitarian obligation. He says it only became possible for humanitarian teams to evacuate the wounded once the military activity was over.