United Nations and other aid workers warned on Saturday that a new U.N. Security Council resolution calling for stepped-up aid for Gaza’s embattled civilians would fail to stop the spiraling humanitarian crisis because it did not demand a full halt to the fighting.
The resolution called on the U.N. Secretary General to appoint a special coordinator for aid to Gaza and establish a mechanism to speed up aid delivery in consultation with all relevant parties.
But without a cease-fire to accompany the stepped-up assistance, aid officials said they cannot address the insufficient food and fuel entering the territory, the collapse of Gaza’s commercial sector, frequent communications disruptions or the inability of relief workers to reach many areas because of intensive Israeli airstrikes and ground operations.
“Right now, we cannot deploy humanitarian aid. It’s impossible,” said Guillemette Thomas, the medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Jerusalem, adding that the shutdown of communications networks has forced it to rely on satellite phones to coordinate food distribution. “People need to be able to get food and water without the fear of being bombed or killed or shot at any moment. We need to be able to move within the strip to access people,” she added.
“The only thing that would be helpful is a cease-fire.”
It was not clear whether the resolution would push Israel, which is not on the Security Council and so did not have a vote, to modify its approach to the war. While such resolutions are considered binding, countries often ignore them.
The resolution referenced a measure passed last month calling for “humanitarian pauses” and called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages,” a demand that Hamas, which still holds about 120 Israelis, was unlikely to heed, hoping instead to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Israeli leaders have vowed to keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed and insist on checking all goods bound for Gaza to prevent the entry of weapons and other supplies that could benefit Hamas’s military effort.
After 11 weeks of war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, international alarm has risen over the plight of the territory’s more than 2 million people, who are increasingly cut off from the outside world, displaced, cold and hungry. About 85 percent of Gaza’s people have fled their homes, and fierce Israeli bombardments have killed more than 20,000 people, about 70 percent of them women and children, according to the health authorities in Gaza.
This week, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, an international partnership of aid organizations, classified Gaza’s entire population as in crisis or worse in terms of access to food. It noted that this was the “highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity” that the partnership has seen for any given area in nearly two decades of tracking.
Human Rights Watch this week accused the Israeli government of “using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare,” which it called “a war crime.”
The Security Council resolution passed on Friday had been meticulously negotiated to avoid objections from the United States, which had vetoed a resolution earlier in December calling for a cease-fire. The United States said then that it backed Israel’s position that stopping the offensive would allow Hamas to rearm and continue to threaten Israel.
The new resolution, which passed after repeated delays with a vote of 13-0, with the United States and Russia abstaining, focused on aid delivery, not stopping the fighting.
It called on the warring parties to “allow, facilitate and enable the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance” to civilians in Gaza and to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”
It was not clear how soon the special coordinator for aid to Gaza would be appointed and how fruitful their efforts would be. Nor did the resolution immediately undo any of the snarls that have limited the amount of aid entering Gaza, including a stringent search regime by the Israeli authorities, who say they want to prevent the entry of any goods that could benefit Hamas.
Israeli officials said after the vote that they would still screen all goods entering Gaza.
“The resolution maintains Israel’s security authority to monitor and inspect aid entering Gaza,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said after the vote.
Egypt, through whose border most of the aid that has entered Gaza during the war has passed, welcomed the resolution, while also calling for a cease-fire.
The resolution was “an important, positive step toward lessening the humanitarian suffering affecting Palestinian civilians and the system of basic services in the strip,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It also called the measure “an insufficient step,” because it did not demand an immediate cease-fire, which the ministry said was “the only means to stop the bloodshed in Gaza.”
Juliette Touma, the director of communications for U.N.R.W.A., the largest U.N. agency in Gaza, said it may be too soon to know the full impact of the resolution.
“It is welcome, but only time will tell what real difference this resolution is going to make, and it needs to increase the humanitarian assistance that has been going into Gaza.”
The war began after a Hamas-led assault on southern Israel on Oct. 7, which killed about 1,200 people and saw 240 others taken back to Gaza as captives, according to Israeli officials. Since then, Gaza has been under siege by Israel, with very limited, and vastly insufficient amounts of aid entering via Gaza’s border with Egypt.
Last week, after significant international pressure, Israel opened its main cargo crossing into Gaza and began letting aid in. That crossing, Kerem Shalom, was open for the first time for major aid shipments during this war after an Israeli cabinet vote on Dec. 15 to approve temporarily letting food and other humanitarian aid through.
Most of Gaza’s fuel and commercial goods came from Israel before the war, but the country closed its crossings with Gaza after the Oct. 7 attack. Aid trucks had to travel from Egypt to Kerem Shalom for inspection by the Israeli military, and then to return to Egypt to enter Gaza from there, drawing out and complicating the process.
The opening of Kerem Shalom was called for as part of a recent hostage deal with Hamas, and Israel was also under immense pressure from the United States to allow aid through it. If he crossing continues to operate, it could provide some relief, but the cabinet’s approval for its use was temporary.
Ms. Touma said that the aid entering Gaza during the war was woefully insufficient, less than 10 percent of what Gaza received before the war. And the fighting made distributing even limited aid impossible in many parts of Gaza.
“The ongoing military operation and the bombardment are definitely a challenge because you can’t deliver humanitarian assistance under a sky full of airstrikes, and there is very little assistance coming in,” Ms. Touma said.
The small amounts of aid entering Gaza and the complete collapse of the territory’s commercial sector mean that many families have exhausted their resources and are increasingly going hungry, according to aid groups and Gaza residents.
Isabel Kershner contributed reporting.