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Ceasefire needed now, to stave off disaster in Gaza says UNICEF chief, as UNRWA launches emergency appeal

19 May 2021 - At least 60 youngsters have been killed in Gaza and another 444 have been injured in less than 10 days of conflict with Israel, the head of UN Children's Fund has said, in a call for an immediate ceasefire and aid access to "stave off disaster". On Wednesday, the UN relief agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) launched a flash appeal for $38 million, to deal with the spiralling humanitarian crisis.

"Gaza's one million children are reeling from the mounting consequences of violent conflict with nowhere safe to turn. Lives have been lost and families shattered," said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director.

Ms. Fore's comments late on Tuesday came as the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also reported that only five trucks in a 24-vehicle humanitarian convoy had been able to enter southern Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, which Israeli authorities closed only hours after reopening it, blaming militants who they said had launched mortars at it.

According to the UNICEF chief, nearly 30,000 children have been displaced in the Occupied Palestinian Territory enclave since 10 May.

This underscores the need for "an immediate cessation of hostilities on humanitarian grounds to allow the entry of staff and essential supplies, including fuel, medical items, first-aid kits and COVID-19 vaccines".

Humanitarian corridors

Ms. Fore also appealed for the establishment of humanitarian corridors "so that we can deliver these supplies safely, so that families can reunite and access essential services, and so that the sick or wounded can be evacuated".

An estimated 250,000 children need mental health and protection services, she continued, while at least four health facilities and 40 schools have been damaged in Gaza since weeks of tensions escalated into Palestinian rocket fire into Israel and Israeli airstrikes.

Electricity provision across Gaza "has dropped by roughly 60 per cent, leaving hospitals increasingly dependent on generators" to provide essential healthcare services.

"These generators require significant amounts of fuel to function," Ms. Fore said, adding that any reduction in health care capacity could also jeopardize treatment for those with COVID-19".

Schools now shelters

Some 48 schools – most of them run by UNRWA – are being used as emergency shelters for families seeking refuge from the violence, the UNICEF top official noted.

"Each and every day the conflict continues, children across the State of Palestine and Israel will suffer," she said. "These children need a ceasefire now, as well as a long-term political solution to the broader conflict. They deserve far better than this horrible cycle of violence and fear that has gone on for far too long."

UNRWA emergency appeal

The UN relief agency for Palestine refugees, UNRWA, launched a flash appeal on Wednesday for $38 million to cover the most urgent needs of Gazans and those living on the West Bank, as the violence continues.

The funds sought would cover an intial 30-day emergency period, from the start of the crisis on 10 May, and will support up to 50,000 people, seeking safety in some 50 designated emergency shelters.

"I am shocked by the number of civilian lives already lost and infrastructure already destroyed in Gaza," said the UNRWA Commissioner-General, Philippe Lazzarini. "I am just as shocked at the excessive use of force at demonstrators in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. UNRWA has immediately stepped up an emergency humanitarian response and needs financial support to scale it up to the level of acute needs of the impacted populations."

The appeal calls for prioritizing immediate needs for food, health and psychosocial support, following the continuing bombardement of Gaza by Israeli. UNRWA said it would assess subsequent needs once the security situation allows.

UNRWA also reiterates its call for the opening of the crossings to allow both humanitarian supplies and humanitarian workers to enter Gaza. "There is no reason to prevent access and weaken critical assistance to the most affected people," added Mr. Lazzarini, who is still awaiting urgent Israeli approval to cross into the enclave. "A humanitarian truce is desperately needed to allow assistance to the people in Gaza including those having fled their homes."

The appeal will also serve emergency needs in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which have been impacted by mounting tensions.

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