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‘A moral outrage’: UN chief vents at Gaza border in ceasefire plea

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has visited the Rafah border crossing.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has visited the Rafah border crossing. Photo:AAP

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has visited the Gaza border with Egypt, where he called the blocking of aid for the Gaza Strip a “moral outrage.”

It was time for Israel to give an “ironclad commitment” for unfettered access to humanitarian goods throughout Gaza, Guterres said, while also calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.

The UN would continue to work with Egypt to “streamline” the flow of aid into Gaza, he told reporters in front of the gate of the Rafah crossing, an entry point for aid.

“Here from this crossing, we see the heartbreak and heartlessness of it all. A long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other,” he said.

“That is more than tragic. It is a moral outrage.”

The visit by Guterres comes as Israel faces global pressure to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza, which has been devastated by more than five months of war between Israel and Hamas.

Israel is threatening to launch a major military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, just over the border from Egypt, despite international appeals against such an attack.

Deteriorating conditions

A majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are sheltering around Rafah.

Although conditions are worse in the north of the strip, the plight of civilians across the territory has deteriorated sharply as the conflict has ground on.

Before his stop at the border, where he met UN humanitarian workers, Guterres landed in al-Arish in Egypt’s northern Sinai, where much of the international relief for Gaza is delivered and stockpiled.

Receiving him, regional governor Mohamed Shusha said about 7000 trucks were waiting in North Sinai to deliver aid to Gaza but that inspection procedures demanded by Israel had held up the flow of relief.

Guterres also visited a hospital in al-Arish where Palestinians relocated from Gaza are receiving treatment.

As hopes for a truce in Gaza during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have faded and the humanitarian situation in Gaza has become more desperate, the United States and other countries have sought to use air drops and ships to deliver aid.

But humanitarian groups say only about one-fifth of the required amount of supplies has been entering Gaza, and that the only way to meet needs is to rapidly accelerate deliveries by road.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas and is worried that the Palestinian militant group will divert aid, has kept all but one of its land crossings into the enclave closed.

It opened its Kerem Shalom crossing close to Rafah in late December and denies accusations by Egypt and UN aid agencies that it has delayed deliveries of humanitarian relief.

170 gunmen killed

Fighting continued on Saturday around Gaza’s main hospital where Israel says it has so far killed more than 170 gunmen in an extensive raid, which the Palestinian Health Ministry says has also resulted in the deaths of five patients.

The armed wing of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said their fighters were engaged in battles with the Israeli forces outside and around the vicinity of al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, although Hamas denies any presence inside the facility.

Israeli troops stormed al-Shifa in the early hours of Monday morning and have been combing through the sprawling complex, which the military says is connected to a tunnel network used as a base for Hamas and other Palestinian fighters.

More than 32,000 people have been killed by Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, many of them women and children, according to local health authorities.

Israel launched the assault in response to an attack by Hamas in which 1200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

—AAP

Topics: Gaza, UN
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