GENEVA - United Nations agencies report difficulties in providing assistance to many of Gaza's two million residents amid escalating violence in Palestinian territory and Israel.
U.N. officials are expressing alarm at the rising number of casualties and suffering of civilians on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides of the conflict. The Gaza Ministry of Health says 119 Palestinians have been killed, including 31 children, and 830 people have been wounded. Seven people reportedly have been killed, including a six-year-old boy and a soldier, in Israel.
The U.N. office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said more than 200 housing units in densely populated areas of Gaza reportedly have been destroyed or severely damaged. OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke said the fighting has disrupted teaching in 31 education facilities, including schools, vocational training centers, and higher education facilities.
"Reports of hundreds of people, many from refugee camps in Gaza, seeking shelter in UNRWA (U.N. Relief and Works Agency) schools especially in the northern part of the strip. UNRWA says that it has experience in quickly turning its schools into shelters, but the challenge is the pandemic and the risk of people crowding and spreading the virus," Laerke said.
North Gaza Seawater Desalination Plant is still not operational, he added, which is affecting access to clean water for an estimated 250,000 people. He said Israel's closure of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings a few days ago is preventing goods and fuel from entering Gaza, adding to the hardship of the population.
"Humanitarians continue providing assistance on the ground, but the current insecurity significantly restricts the delivery of essential services, including the ongoing COVID-19 response," Laerke said. "The number of tests conducted is drastically reduced and people are unable to access treatment and vaccination facilities safely."
The OCHA is calling for an immediate de-escalation of violence across the occupied Palestinian territory and Israel. It said the parties to the conflict have an obligation to protect civilians and allow humanitarian relief to reach those in need.
Israel has come under fierce attack from rockets launched by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. U.S. President Joe Biden expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself but has said he hoped the fighting would end "sooner than later."
The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Sunday to discuss the situation in Israel and Gaza. American Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the U.S. will continue to actively engage in diplomacy at the highest levels to try to de-escalate tensions.