The average Palestinian in Gaza is living on just two pieces of Arabic bread, the Gaza director for the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said Friday, highlighting the humanitarian crisis and the dire rarity of resources residents are experiencing as the war between Israel and Hamas continues.
Thomas White, Director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said the Palestinian refugee agency is supporting about 89 bakeries across Gaza, aiming to get bread to 1.7 million people — only barely needing basic needs.
White also said he traveled “the length and breadth of Gaza in the last few weeks” and described the place as a “scene of death and destruction.”
No place is safe now, he said, as civilians remain in the crossfire of Israel’s campaign of vengeance against the Hamas terror group, which launched an unprecedented attack on Israel, slaughtering 1,400 people in border towns and communities on Oct. 7.
While world leaders
White said the bread, made from flour the United Nations had stockpiled in the region, is still not the most pressing need for those who remain in Gaza as residents plead for drinkable water: “Now people are beyond looking for bread. It’s looking for water.”
U.N. deputy Mideast coordinator Lynn Hastings, the humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said only one of three water supply lines from Israel is operational.
“Many people are relying on brackish or saline ground water, if at all,” she said.
Another major problem emerging out of Gaza is the lack of fuel, essential for the functioning of backup generators, which have been essential to keep hospitals, water desalination plants, food production facilities and other essential services operating
U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths also said intense negotiations are taking place among authorities from Israel, Egypt, the United States and United Nations on allowing fuel to enter Gaza.
“We must allow these supplies reliably, repetitively and dependently into Gaza,” Griffiths said.
Hospitals, institutions and water and electricity distribution centers “are one by one grinding to a halt as fuel supplies run out,” Hastings added.
White said close to 600,000 people are sheltering in 149 UNRWA facilities, most of them schools, but the agency has lost contact with many in the north, where Israel is carrying intense ground and air operations following Hamas’ surprise Oct. 7 attacks.
White noted the U.N. cannot meet the needs of those who remain in their facilities: “At last count, 38 people have died in our shelters. I fear that with the fighting going on in the north right now, that number is going to grow significantly.”
Griffiths, the humanitarian chief, said 72 UNRWA staff members had been killed since Oct. 7. “I think it’s the highest number of U.N. staff lost in a conflict,” he said.
More than 9,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and the death toll is expected to rise once buildings are cleared and rubble is taken away.
While several world leaders have called for a ceasefire so that humanitarian care can be provided to civilians, Israel has remained opposed to such a move.
The United States does not officially support a ceasefire, as President Biden has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas. Biden has recently shifted his tone, amid pressure from progressive groups and world leaders, to express support for a humanitarian “pause.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said a pause in Israel’s ground invasion would give time for Hamas to reorganize or plan other attacks.
Also, Netanyahu and other Israel officials have said Hamas could steal resources from the civilians, many of which they have disregarded in the wider conflict, often using civilian structures, such as hospitals and schools, to house its fighters.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.