AMMAN, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Gaza faces a humanitarian "catastrophe" if Israel continues to prevent aid reaching the territory by blocking crossing points, the head of the main U.N. aid agency for the Palestinians said on Friday.
Karen AbuZayd, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the human toll of this month's sealing of Gaza's goods crossings was the gravest since the early days of a Palestinian uprising eight years ago.
"It's been closed for so much longer than ever before... and we have nothing in our warehouses... It will be a catastrophe if this persists, a disaster," said AbuZayd, whose agency is the largest aid body providing services to Palestinian refugees.
Israel closed the crossings after Palestinian militants responded with daily rocket salvoes to an Israeli army incursion on Nov. 4 into the Hamas-run territory, where a five-month-old, Egyptian-brokered ceasefire had largely been holding.
At present, UNRWA provides rations for 820,000 people classed as refugees and the United Nations' World Food Programme aids a further 200,000 people, AbuZayd told Reuters in Amman.
"They often bring us to the brink but they never have let us really be frightened about whether we are going to have food tomorrow or not," AbuZayd said.
Israel had restricted goods into Gaza despite the truce, which calls on militants to halt rocket attacks in return for Israel easing its embargo on the territory.
"This time throughout this whole truce since June none of us have been able to bring in anything extra that would create a reserve so we had nothing to call upon," she said.
She said people were sweeping warehouses because there is now nothing in them.
Israel also held up deliveries of European Union-funded fuel for the power plant, which generates about a third of the electricity consumed by Gazans. The rest comes from Israel, which was continuing supply, and Egypt.
UNRWA's food basket, which comprised nearly 60 percent of daily needs, including milk powder and sugar, had run out, AbuZayd said. Most of the flour in mills would be consumed by end of the month.
Ailments associated with insufficient food were surfacing among the impoverished coastal strip's 1.5 million population, including growing malnutrition.
"There is a chronic anaemia problem. There are signs that's increasing. What we are beginning to notice is what we call stunting of children ... which means they are not eating well enough to be bigger than their parents," AbuZayd added.
The humanitarian plight of Gazans was by far the worst among the more than 4.6 million Palestinian refugees across the region.
"They are not just under occupation, they are under siege ... it's a word I don't usually use, they are completely closed off," AbuZayd said.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
- For more humanitarian news and analysis, please visit https://www.trust.org/alertnet