RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Gaza urgently needs more aid or its desperate population will suffer widespread famine and disease, the heads of three major U.N. agencies warned Monday, as authorities in the enclave reported that the death toll in the Israel-Hamas war had surpassed 24,000.
While the U.N. agency chiefs did not directly point a finger at Israel, they said aid delivery is hobbled by the opening of too few border crossings, a slow vetting process for trucks and goods going into Gaza, and continuing fighting throughout the territory — all of which Israel plays a deciding factor in.
Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, sparked by the militant group's Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel, has prompted unprecedented destruction in the tiny coastal enclave and triggered a humanitarian catastrophe that has displaced most of Gaza's 2.3 million population and pushed more than a quarter into starvation, according to the U.N.
It has also stoked regional tensions, with Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen carrying out strikes in support of the Palestinians. A missile fired by Yemen's Houthi rebels hit an American-owned cargo ship on Monday, days after U.S.-led strikes against the group over its attacks on international shipping. In Gaza, civilians have grown desperate. Footage shared online by Al Jazeera showed hundreds of people rushing toward what appeared to be an aid truck in what the news outlet said was Gaza City. The Associated Press couldn't independently verify the video and it wasn't clear when it was filmed.
The World Food Program, Unicef and the World Health Organization said Monday that new entry routes need to be opened to Gaza, more trucks need to be allowed in each day, and aid workers and those seeking aid need to be allowed to move around safely.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said U.N. agencies and their partners "cannot effectively deliver humanitarian aid while Gaza is under such heavy, widespread and unrelenting bombardment." He said the deaths of 152 U.N. staffers in Gaza since the start of the war is "the largest single loss of life in the history of our organization."
Death toll rises
The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Monday that the bodies of 132 people killed in Israeli strikes were brought to Gaza hospitals over the past day, raising the death toll from the start of the war to 24,100. The ministry, which doesn't distinguish between fighters and noncombatants in its tally, says two-thirds of those killed in the war were women and children. Israel says its forces have killed roughly 8,000 militants, without providing evidence.