A shaky cease-fire between Israel and Hamas has allowed a surge of aid to reach Palestinians in Gaza, but humanitarian groups and civilians in the enclave say the convoys aren’t nearly enough to address the needs of the strip’s two million people.
Despite the pause in fighting, Palestinians in Gaza are burning door frames and piles of garbage to cook, sleeping crammed into school classrooms and strangers’ homes, and scrambling onto trucks bringing aid from Egypt in a desperate grab for supplies, residents say.
The cease-fire has also allowed Gazans a chance to bury the dead and to take stock of entire neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble during seven weeks of Israeli bombing.
The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is adding to international pressure on Israel and Hamas to extend the initial four-day cease-fire to allow more aid to flow in and to stabilize the situation for civilians in Gaza. Egyptian and Qatari mediators said Monday that it had been extended another two days to Wednesday, with Hamas later confirming the extension that will allow more hostages to be released.
Meanwhile, 1.7 million people are internally displaced, most of them crammed into the southern half of the Gaza Strip, after Israel demanded that civilians leave the north days after its military offensive began last month. Some say they are losing hope.
“I don’t want humanitarian aid, I want to go back home to Gaza City,” said Balsam Hisham, 35, a mother of six who fled the north and is living in a tent in the south. “I wish I was killed in Gaza and didn’t have to live this life here.”
Israel and Hamas began a cease-fire on Nov. 24 as a part of an agreement under which the militant group is slowly releasing hostages it took during the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. In return, Israel has agreed to release about 150 Palestinian prisoners and allow an increase in deliveries of aid into Gaza.
More than 1,200 people were killed in the attacks, most of them civilians in towns neighboring Gaza. More than 14,800 Palestinians, most of them women and children, have been killed in the resulting Israeli offensive in Gaza, according to authorities in the Hamas-run enclave. The number doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.
Under the cease-fire agreement, humanitarian groups are allowed to dispatch 200 trucks a day to the Gaza Strip, more than at any point during the war. The convoys include deliveries of fuel to power generators at facilities, including hospitals. The Gaza Strip has had no regular supply of electricity since its sole power plant shut down on Oct. 11.
Israel, which declared what it called a “complete siege” of the Gaza Strip on Oct. 9, has said it is facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid into the Strip.
“We are currently focusing on humanitarian aid specifically for the wintertime, like tents, blankets and mattresses,” Moshe Tetro, head of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Israeli military, said in a video tweeted on Sunday.
The number of trucks is still less than half the daily average that entered Gaza before the war. Among the problems compounding the crisis in Gaza is that the war has brought the economy grinding to a halt. Much of Gaza’s food is brought in by truck from Israel and Egypt, with all shipments through crossings from Israel cut off by the Israeli government in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attacks.
The United Nations and other organizations say they are being forced to step in for the private sector, which has collapsed because of the war and blockade imposed by Israel. That has raised the challenge of sustaining the Gazan population during what is expected to be several more months of war.
“If there are no commercial goods in the stores, what we’re doing effectively is actively turning an entire population into a population that exclusively relies on food aid, and that is so wrong in terms of managing Gaza,” said Tamara Alrifai, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which runs the largest aid operation in Gaza.
Israel has said it plans to resume its military offensive in Gaza whenever the cease-fire ends. Israeli officials say that the military has largely routed the group in the north and that the next phase of the war will focus on uprooting Hamas from southern Gaza. Even during the initial four days of the cease-fire, Gazans say that the increase in deliveries of aid hasn’t made a difference in their lives.
In Gaza City, which has been encircled by the Israeli military for weeks, Palestinians leapt onto aid trucks, pushing and shoving one another as a convoy arrived on Sunday, with residents scuffling over sacks of flour and blankets, witnesses said.
The situation in the northern Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, is especially desperate. Israel urged more than one million people living in northern Gaza to leave the area to give the Israeli military a freer hand to operate. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are estimated to have stayed, aid groups say.
Many stayed behind with sick, wounded or elderly relatives who were unable to move. Others chose to stay out of fear that they wouldn’t be allowed back into their homes. Israel has told Palestinians who fled to the south not to return to the north for now, with Israeli forces using gunfire to disperse people who tried to enter the north over the weekend. The Israeli military said it warned people not to approach the area for their own safety.
“We’re dealing with a completely new reality in Gaza,” said Bushra Khalidi, a policy lead at Oxfam, an antipoverty charity. “It’s been a glimpse into the future of what Gaza will be like after the war, and it’s absolute chaos. There’s no rule of law. There’s no police. People are fending for themselves.”
In southern Gaza, food and other essentials are more readily available, but an increasing number of Palestinians there say they can’t afford the soaring prices of essentials such as flour and vegetables. Palestinians in the area say they are waiting hours, sometimes staying in line overnight, to obtain essentials such as bread and water. A single line for cooking gas in the southern city of Khan Younis stretched for more than a mile, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“Everything is expensive and we don’t have money. We have not gotten any humanitarian aid,” said Suha Mahmoud, 45, who is staying in a university in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis after having fled when Israeli tanks approached her home near the seaport in Gaza City.
Like many other Palestinians, Mahmoud left her home carrying only a few possessions. She went to a local shop to buy a set of warm clothes for her 7-year-old daughter only to find that it would cost 50 Israeli shekels, or $13 dollars.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen after this pause, if we will ever go back home, if we will get any aid. We are heading into the unknown,” she said.News Related