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UN agency says warehouse struck amid Gaza aid efforts

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees has said one of its warehouses in war-ravaged Gaza has been hit, amid mounting efforts to bring food to the besieged Palestinian territory.

The Israel-Hamas conflict raging since 7 October has caused mass civilian deaths, reduced vast areas to a rubble-strewn wasteland and sparked warnings of looming famine in the Palestinian territory of 2.4 million people.

“We can confirm that an UNRWA warehouse/distribution centre in Rafah (southern Gaza) has been hit,” the United Nations agency said.

“We do not yet have more information on what exactly happened nor the number of UNRWA staff impacted,” agency spokeswoman Juliette Touma told AFP.

A boy waits for food in Rafah, southern Gaza

“UNRWA uses this facility to distribute much-needed food and other lifesaving items to displaced people in southern Gaza.”

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza meanwhile said four people were killed in the “bombing of the warehouse”.

It came as donor nations, aid agencies and charities pushed on with efforts to rush food to the impoverished territory.

A Spanish charity vessel, the Open Arms, was on its way to Gaza from Cyprus, after setting sail a day earlier towing a barge with 200 tonnes of aid, in a first voyage meant to open a maritime corridor.

The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell told the UN Security Council yesterday that the humanitarian crisis “is man-made”.

“If we look at alternative ways to provide support, it’s because the land crossings have been artificially closed,” he said, charging that “starvation is being used as a weapon of war”.

A smoke plume rises during Israeli bombardment in southern Gaza

The Gaza war was sparked by the 7 October Hamas attack that resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official Israeli figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 captives remain in Gaza but that 32 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive have killed 31,272 Palestinians in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

At least 88 people were killed over the past 24 hours, it said, adding that “dozens of missing persons are still under the rubble”.

The Israeli army said its troops were “intensifying operations” in southern Gaza, including the biggest city there, Khan Younis.

People wait in long queues in front of bakeries in Deir al-Balah to buy bread

“In the last 24 hours, there were exchanges of fire between IDF (Israeli army) troops and a terrorist cell consisting of seven terror operatives barricaded inside a compound in the Hamad area of Khan Younis,” it said.

“In a coordinated strike, the troops killed several of the terrorists, and then directed an aircraft to strike and eliminate the rest of the cell.”

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators had aimed to bring a truce and hostage release deal before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but missed the Monday deadline.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said that, although talks continued, “we are not near a deal”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubled down on his pledge to “destroy Hamas” – including by sending troops into Gaza’s last area so far spared ground operations, far-southern Rafah.

In remarks to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Mr Netanyahu “emphasised… that entering Rafah is essential to realising the goals of the war, and that unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state would be considered an achievement by Hamas”.

A child sits in a shelter in Rafah, southern Gaza

The prospect of a Rafah invasion has sparked global alarm because it is crowded with almost 1.5 million mostly displaced people.

Gaza’s dire food shortages after more than five months of war and siege have killed 27 people through malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Fahd al-Ghoul, a resident of Jabalia Camp in the north, said: “We have been fasting against our will for two months or more.”

“Now with Ramadan, nothing changes in our reality,” the 50-year-old added.

The British foreign office has said 150 tonnes of UK aid had entered Gaza, adding that a field hospital would also arrive this week.

As aid agencies warn the truck deliveries and airdrops fall far short of meeting the desperate need, European nations and the United States have announced plans to send more relief goods by sea.

US President Joe Biden last week announced plans for the military to build a pier on Gaza’s coast, and four US Army vessels left a base in Virginia yesterday carrying about 100 soldiers and equipment.

The offshore platform and pier are expected to be up and running “at the 60-day mark”, US Army Brigadier General Brad Hinson told journalists.

About half a dozen Arab and Western nations have airdropped food parcels on parachutes into Gaza, and Morocco has sent a planeload of relief supplies via Israel’s Ben Gurion airport.

The UN World Food Programme, trying an alternative land route from southern Israel, sent an initial six aid trucks Tuesday into worst-hit northern Gaza, through a gate in the security fence, the Israeli army said.

The WFP said it had “delivered enough food for 25,000 people” and demanded that, “with people in northern Gaza on the brink of famine, we need deliveries every day. We need entry points directly into the north.”

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