Gaza fighting continues despite Israeli ‘pauses’ announcement: UNRWA | Israel-Palestine conflict News

Israeli forces battled with Palestinian groups in Rafah and elsewhere in southern Gaza despite the Israeli military’s announcement on Sunday of tactical pauses in operations to allow humanitarian aid to enter, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini has said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday criticised plans announced by the military to hold daily pauses in fighting along one of the main roads into the besieged Palestinian enclave that has been under relentless Israeli bombardment for more than eight months.

Lazzarini, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the main organisation delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza, said that there had been no pause in the fighting.

“There has been information that such a decision has been taken, but the political level says none of this decision has been taken,” Lazzarini told a press conference on Monday.

“So for the time being, I can tell you that hostilities continue in Rafah and in the south of Gaza. And that operationally, nothing has changed yet.”

The Israeli military said on Monday that its forces were continuing operations in the Rafah area, which included ground fighting.

Residents said Israeli forces were advancing deeper into the central and western areas of Rafah. Hamas forces were fighting from close range inside the Shaboura camp in the heart of Rafah, according to the group’s armed wing and residents, who reported hearing sounds of non-stop explosions and gunfire.

The Israeli military had announced at the weekend the daily pauses from 05:00 GMT until 16:00 GMT in the area from the Karem Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing, to the Salah al-Din Road and then northwards.

It later clarified that operations would continue in Rafah, the main focus of its ongoing assault in southern Gaza.

International humanitarian officials have repeatedly said that Israeli inspections, ongoing fighting, and looting by desperate residents have impeded aid deliveries. Israeli ground troops have been operating in the southern city of Rafah since early May. They have since sealed shut the vital Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Before the Rafah ground operation, there was already an inadequate flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the number of trucks entering the Gaza Strip’s south stood in the hundreds – not nearly enough to sustain the daily needs of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million.

‘Hell on earth’

“As we have reiterated, humanitarian operations in Gaza must be fully facilitated, and all impediments must be lifted,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told The Associated Press on Monday. “We need to be able to deliver aid safely throughout Gaza.”

With the Israeli assault on Gaza in its ninth month, Haq said, displaced Palestinians in the territory urgently need food, water, sanitation, shelter and healthcare, “with many living near piles of solid waste, heightening health risks”.

He said Israel needs to ensure that the movement of aid convoys and staff members through checkpoints is expedited, that all roads are operational, and that fuel – which is in critically short supply – enters Gaza regularly.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said in an opinion piece in The New York Times that the impoverished and blockaded Gaza Strip has been turned into “hell on earth” as famine looms.

He said humanitarian aid is obstructed and politicised while hunger and disease spread, “and humanitarian workers, health care workers, and journalists have all endured unacceptable losses”.

Echoing his remarks, Gaza’s Government Media Office accused Israel and the United States of “purposefully” worsening famine-like conditions in Gaza by “withholding humanitarian aid as a tool for political pressure”.

In a statement on Monday, the media office accused Israel and the US administration of “deliberately aggravating the humanitarian situation” in Gaza to achieve political goals.

Separately on Monday, Norway said that it was increasing its funding to UNRWA by 100 million kroner ($9.3m).

UNRWA was plunged into a crisis in January, when Israel accused about a dozen of its 13,000 Gaza employees of involvement in the October 7 Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel.

The allegations prompted several countries, including top donor the US, to suspend funding to the agency, though many have since resumed payments.

“UNRWA is the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza,” Norway’s Minister for International Development Anne Beathe Tvinnereim said in a statement.

“The war, accusations made by Israel, continuous attacks on the organisation and funds withheld by major donors have put UNRWA in an extremely difficult financial situation,” she said.

An independent review of UNRWA, led by former French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, found some “neutrality-related issues” but said Israel had yet to provide evidence for its main allegations.

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