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Six months into war, UN chief demands 'quantum leap' in Gaza aid


U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, leaves after speaking to the media at United Nations headquarters in New York on April 5, 2024, ahead of the six-month mark of the Israel-Hamas war.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, center, leaves after speaking to the media at United Nations headquarters in New York on April 5, 2024, ahead of the six-month mark of the Israel-Hamas war.

The U.N. secretary-general warned on Friday that children are dying in Gaza from hunger and dehydration and said a “quantum leap” in the delivery of lifesaving aid is urgently needed.

“When the gates to aid are closed, the doors to starvation are opened,” Antonio Guterres told reporters.

He said as the six-month mark in the war between Israel and Hamas approaches on Sunday that the “speed, scale and inhumane ferocity” of the war mark it as one of the deadliest conflicts for civilians, aid workers, journalists and medical personnel.

“Six months on, we are at the brink: of mass starvation; of regional conflagration; of a total loss of faith in global standards and norms,” he said. “It’s time to step back from that brink — to silence the guns, to ease the horrible suffering and stop a potential famine before it is too late.”

He reiterated his condemnation of Hamas’ October 7 terror attack on Israel and his calls for the unconditional release of all the hostages still held by Hamas and other armed groups.

The secretary-general acknowledged that in the aftermath of Monday’s deadly strike on a World Central Kitchen aid convoy, which killed seven aid workers, the Israelis have pledged to allow a “substantial increase” in humanitarian aid distributed in Gaza.

“I sincerely hope that these announced intentions are effectively and quickly materialized because the situation in Gaza is absolutely desperate,” he said.

Israel said on Friday that it will temporarily open the Erez crossing into Gaza and allow aid shipments to be processed at its Ashdod port — requests humanitarians have been making for months.

Children search rubble for food

U.N. Security Council members condemned the strike on the World Central Kitchen team during an emergency session on Friday to discuss the risk of famine and attacks against aid workers. Israel announced the dismissal of two officers involved in the strike earlier Friday.

Many council members noted that more than 220 aid workers have been killed since the conflict began, most of them Palestinians.

“What is so unsettling about the deaths of our colleagues from World Central Kitchen is that they did everything they were supposed to do, and they were still killed,” Janti Soeripto, president and chief executive of Save the Children U.S., told the council.

She said her organization, like other aid groups, shares the coordinates and movements of its workers with the Israeli military and COGAT – the Israeli government agency responsible for coordinating with aid groups.

“And we do not get on the road if we do not have confirmation that they have been received and that our movement is deconflicted,” she said.

Just back from Gaza, Soeripto described seeing malnourished children searching for food, many of them climbing barefoot over glass and debris.

“Running around desperately looking for food and water because not enough is being allowed into Gaza,” she said. “They were visibly, demonstrably malnourished.”

She said nearly 350,000 children younger than 5 are at risk of starvation in Gaza.

Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan said it is “lies” that his government limits aid entering Gaza, and despite the “tragic incident” involving the WCK workers, Israel will go on coordinating and securing aid missions into Gaza.

Slovenia, joined by Algeria, Guyana and Switzerland in calling for Friday’s meeting, said perhaps the council should have met in Gaza to understand the level of desperation and the risk of famine.

"Waiting for a famine declaration will not change anything on the ground, unfortunately,” Slovenian Ambassador Samuel Zbogar said. “But we know what will — an immediate cease-fire.”

After months of paralysis, the 15-nation council agreed to a resolution on March 25 demanding an immediate cease-fire for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. It has yet to be implemented and Ramadan ends next week.

Some council members expressed concerns that food is being used as a weapon of war — a potential war crime. Others criticized Israel’s recent decision prohibiting the U.N.’s main aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, from conducting distribution missions to northern Gaza, where famine-like conditions may already be present.

“We call on the Israeli authorities to reverse their decision and allow UNRWA to deliver lifesaving services to the people in the north,” Guyana Ambassador Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett said.

In northern Gaza, the U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, says one in six children is acutely malnourished and at least 31 people, including 28 children, are believed to have starved to death in recent weeks.

Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour appealed to the council take concrete action to prevent more Palestinian deaths.

“Action is needed now at every level, with every means possible,” he said.