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Senior UN relief official calls for ‘immediate unconditional’ access for life-saving aid in Gaza

Yet, the Israeli authorities have linked humanitarian assistance with the release of the hostages held by Hamas since the militant group launched its deadly 7 October attack, Lynn Hastings, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, says. 

“They have said they want to destroy Hamas, but their current trajectory is going to destroy Gaza,” Ms. Hastings said in an interview with UN News on Sunday.

Calling for the unconditional and immediate release of hostages being held by Hamas, she also urged “immediate unconditional access” into Gaza for the delivery of lifesaving aid. She warned: “We are anticipating that there won’t be any more water left, if not tomorrow, at the very latest by Tuesday.”

Speaking to UN News’s Reem Abaza she said, “… it’s really about the loss of our humanity if the international community allows this to continue. What we are seeing now is simply inhumane … the world needs to demand that we are able to deliver the assistance that is at the doorstep of Gaza.”

The Resident Coordinator’s plea comes as the latest Israel-Hamas conflict entered its eighth day and an Israeli-imposed deadline for some 1.1 million civilians to leave the northern part of the enclave, ahead of what was expected to be a major advance into Gaza by Israeli ground forces, expired late yesterday. 

Lynn Hastings, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, spoke from Jerusalem. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length. 

UN News: The UN has asked the Israeli authorities to rescind its orders to Palestinians in north Gaza to move south. Are you still trying on this track? What kind of response are you getting? 

Lynn Hastings: Yes, of course, we’re still trying. Unfortunately, the Government of Israel continues to issue broadcasts encouraging or telling people to move south and that it’s no longer safe to stay in the north of Gaza. And, of course, for one million people to leave – many of whom have absolutely no transportation, no cars, even if they have a car, there’s no fuel in Gaza anymore – is impossible. I also want to say that hospitals in the north have also been receiving notices that they should be evacuating. Again, another impossibility. People have just had surgeries. The Ministry of Health also has no capacity to move. They’ve asked the UN to help them move, we cannot do that. We also don’t have the capacity. 

UN News: Thousands have been and are moving to the south of the strip. What capacity does the UN have to support them? And what do you know about the situation in general in southern Gaza?

Lynn Hastings: We have been supporting the people ever since the airstrikes started. They were sheltering in UNRWA schools, some of which were facilitated with food, water, and some mattresses. But all of that has changed in the past couple of days since the Israelis have announced their intention for one million people to be fleeing to the south. 

So, what we’re doing now… We are at a very limited capacity in the south. Number one, because there aren’t shelters available in the south in terms of the numbers that are coming. Number two, because we don’t have water ourselves. Food, yes, there’s some food in distribution sites, but we can’t get to them because of the bombardment. 

And again, no fuel means no desalination. And Gaza is heavily reliant on desalination. No fuel also means no healthcare because you need electricity to run hospitals.

Local people look at damage to a residential community in Gaza.
WHO

Local people look at damage to a residential community in Gaza.

This means the health system has collapsed. So, what we need to do as the UN, we’re doing everything we can right now in terms of shelter, but we need to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza immediately. 

UN News: And what are the latest updates on establishing safe corridors for humanitarians, opening the Rafah crossing to get UN aid that is ready on the Egyptian side?

Lynn Hastings: We can actually bring in supplies, food, water, medicine, fuel from both Israel and Egypt right now. The problem is, is we do not have agreement from the Israelis to bring goods in. Right now, they’re not permitting us to move. So, we are calling, obviously, for unconditional safe passage. And just like we call for the unconditional release and immediate release of the hostages being held by Hamas, we are also calling for immediate, unconditional access to provide humanitarian assistance. And that’s not just to get goods into Gaza, but it’s also to get goods throughout Gaza, which means we need pauses. We need a ceasefire. Our staff need to be able to move safely. 

UN News: What can you tell us about your talks with the Israeli side to allow you to get aid in?

Lynn Hastings: It’s obviously something we’re working intensively on, but we have not been able to reach an agreement yet. Israel is connecting humanitarian assistance into Gaza with the release of the hostages. Again, neither should be conditional. And what we’re seeing right now, the direction that Israel is going in, they want to destroy Hamas, but their current trajectory is going to destroy Gaza.

UN News: UN agencies and you’ve mentioned that right now, you’re warning of dwindling supplies inside Gaza of water, food, other essentials. How much do you have left? When do you expect you will run out? 

Lynn Hastings: There’s only enough water – and this isn’t for all 2 million people – of about one litre of water today, which is well below the requirement by the World Health Organization. We are anticipating that there won’t be any more water left, if not tomorrow at the very latest by Tuesday. Now, we have heard reports that Israel did turn on the water connection to Gaza tonight, but our staff are reporting that water is not flowing. And what we need is for the water to be turned back on, so all the wells, at least in the south of Gaza, can be filled up. And that needs to happen immediately. 

UN News: What other options do you have to support people in Gaza? 

Lynn Hastings: All we can do is distribute what we have. For example, in the north, the ICRC released all its materials from its warehouses to the Ministry of Health so they could draw on that. So, yes, right now all we can do is provide with the various supplies we have right now. But again, it’s about advocacy. It’s about the Israelis permitting us to go in and distribute all those humanitarian supplies.

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UN News: What do you hear from your colleagues, the humanitarians on the ground in Gaza? What do they say about the situation there? 

Lynn Hastings: It’s unprecedented. Anyone who’s been following this occupation and conflict for so many decades will see this as an unprecedented scale of humanitarian catastrophe. As I’ve said, the events of 7 October and Hamas attacks were absolute abhorrent. But this attack on Gaza, again, unprecedented, catastrophic. It really can lead nowhere for the Palestinians who live in Gaza. 

UN News: What scares you the most about this situation? 

Lynn Hastings: That’s a difficult question because there are so many things, but really, it’s really about the loss of our humanity if the international community allows this to continue. What we are seeing now is simply inhumane.

UN News: What’s most needed from the international community and countries in the region right now?

Lynn Hastings: I do think that there needs to be support for the United Nations and all our partners to get things into Gaza. I can’t emphasize enough that we need to get things into Gaza. There has to be a ceasefire. At some point, we will need funding. But that’s not the most important thing right now. As I’ve said, we’ve got some supplies ready to go. We can get it in. We’ll talk about funding later. But the world needs to demand that we are able to deliver the assistance that is at the doorstep of Gaza.

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