Aid groups scramble to help as Israel-Hamas war intensifies

Humanitarian groups are scrambling to assist civilians caught in the war between Israel and Hamas — efforts that are being complicated by an intensified blockade of Gaza and ongoing fighting.

Two days after Hamas’ unprecedented attack, Israel increased airstrikes on Gaza and blocked food, fuel and other supplies from entering the territory, a move that raised concerns at the United Nations and among aid groups operating in the area.

Hamas, in turn, pledged to kill Israelis it abducted if the country’s military bombs civilian targets in Gaza without warning.

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Israel has said that it will block food, fuel and other supplies from entering Gaza (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

More than two tonnes of medical supplies from the Egyptian Red Crescent have been sent to Gaza and efforts are underway to organise food and other deliveries, according to an Egyptian military official.

But the United Nations and other aid groups are pleading for more access to help Palestinians who find themselves in the middle of intense fighting.

Doctors Without Borders, which is still operating in Gaza, has to rely on supplies it already has inside the territory because it is unable to bring any more in, said Emmanuel Massart, a deputy desk co-ordinator with the organisation in Brussels.

The group — which says it only runs programs in Palestinian areas since Israel has strong emergency and health services — reported on Monday that it provided treatments to more than 50 people following airstrikes at the Jabalia refugee camp located north of Gaza City.

In addition to helping patients in Gaza, it said it was donating medical supplies to other clinics and hospitals, which have become overcrowded with patients and are experiencing shortages of drugs and fuel that can be used for generators.

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More than 1,600 people have lost their lives since the outbreak of war at the weekend (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

He also said since the facilities the organisation uses are running on generators due to the low supply of electricity, cutting off fuel will present a “huge problem”.

“If there is no fuel, there are no medical facilities anymore because we cannot run our medical facility without the energy,” Mr Massart said.

The war has also been deeply disruptive to work Mercy Corps has been doing to provide people in Gaza with necessities like food and water, said Arnaud Quemin, the Middle East regional director for the organisation.

Right now, he said the team on the ground is trying to find a scenario that would enable them to get back to work.

The blockade of food and other supplies into Gaza is a major worry.

“We are very concerned with the way things are going at this point because it looks like it’s going to get worse – very soon,” Mr Quemin said.

The sealing of Gaza, he said, will create “humanitarian needs very quickly”.

Governments have also been weighing how to respond.

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Destroyed cars are seen at the rave party site near the Kibbutz Re’im, close to the Gaza Strip border fence, where at least 260 people were killed in a surprise attack by Hamas militants on Saturday (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Instead, the 27-nation group said it would urgently review the assistance it provides in the wake of Hamas’ attacks on Israel.

Two European countries — Germany and Austria — said they were suspending development aid for Palestinian areas.

Meanwhile, some organisations are stepping up aid efforts in Israel, which has seen displacement because of the violence.

Naomi Adler, CEO of Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organisation of America, said a trauma centre in Jerusalem that is owned by the organisation is treating wounded Israeli soldiers and civilians.

About 90% of the patients in the centre right now are soldiers, who are typically the first to be brought in for traumatic injuries, Ms Adler said, but the centre also accepts anyone who is wounded or injured.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), a Jewish humanitarian organisation, said on Sunday that it was activating its emergency response team in Israel, where it runs programmes to support people with disabilities, the elderly, children and families who have been impacted by the war and prior conflicts.

The organisation said it was working with its partners, including the Israeli government, to address what it called an unprecedented emergency.

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Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair, File)

She said it will help nursery teachers, for example, explain to children why some of their classmates are suddenly missing.

Ms Zwang said: “If you’re a teacher now, if you know the children are traumatised, you need special skills and special training in order to manage what you’re experiencing and provide for the emotional needs, which are extraordinary at this time, of your youngest charges.”

One organisation that helps Palestinian children is shifting its focus, too.

Steve Sosebee, the president of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, a US-based charity that helps children in need travel to the US for medical treatment, said given the war, the fund is now looking away from long-term programmes and towards more urgent needs for food, medication, clothing and other types of basic humanitarian aid.

But like others, Mr Sosebee noted the blockade and security risks to its Gaza staff make it more challenging to do that.

“There are no areas of security, there are no safe havens,” Mr Sosebee said.

“Therefore, it’s very difficult for us to be out in the field providing humanitarian aid when there are no safe places from the constant bombing and attacks that have taken place over the last 72 hours.”

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