The main United Nations agency in Gaza says it will have to halt aid operations within a day if fuel is not delivered, in what the organization says would mark the end of a “lifeline” for civilians.
While some aid has reached Gaza through Egypt, those deliveries included food, water and medicine – but not fuel. Israel has refused to allow fuel to enter Gaza since Hamas’ brutal October 7 attack, saying it would only be used by the militant group to fuel its fight against Israel.
Asked how long the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) could last without fuel, spokesperson Tamara Alrifai told CNN: “We’re probably talking a day. We have already warned that if fuel runs out by tonight or tomorrow, we as UNWRA, the largest UN agency in Gaza, will no longer be able to work.” The organization initially said it would have to halt operations Wednesday evening.
UN officials warned the current supplies were “a drop in the ocean” for the needs of 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza and will be of little use without the fuel needed to collect and distribute the aid.
“Without fuel, aid cannot be delivered, hospitals will not have power, and drinking water cannot be purified or even pumped,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the UN Security Council Tuesday.
Doctors in overwhelmed hospitals on the brink of shutting down have repeatedly warned that waves of new patients injured in the daily bombings and babies relying on oxygen supplies will die if fuel is not brought in.
The warnings from senior UN officials came after Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed more than 700 people in 24 hours, the highest daily number published since Israeli strikes against what it called Hamas targets in Gaza began two and a half weeks ago, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah on Tuesday.
UNRWA director of communications Juliette Touma told CNN that the agency was sheltering some 600,000 people across Gaza. “UNRWA is their only lifeline,” Touma said.
The UNRWA director for Gaza Tom White told CNN that aid workers would have to decide what aspects of life-saving aid they could and could not provide to civilians.
“Do we provide fuel for desalination plants for drinking water? Can we provide fuel to hospitals? Can we provide the essential fuel that is currently producing the bread that is feeding people in Gaza?” he said.
UNRWA was founded in the wake of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War to provide essential services for Palestinians who had been made refugees by the conflict. It began its operations in 1950 and its mandate has since been repeatedly renewed.
As well as humanitarian aid, UNRWA also provides schooling to almost 300,000 students in Gaza, according to figures from the 2021/22 school year. Recent fighting has meant that schools have become places of refuge for thousands of Gazans who have fled their homes.
But White warned that fuel shortages could lead to the agency “winding down” its operations, even as some humanitarian supplies begin to arrive through the Rafah crossing. White did not specify exactly when that process would begin, but stressed that the agency cannot operate without fuel. “Even if convoys come into Gaza, we won’t have the fuel in our trucks to collect that aid or distribute that aid,” he said.