A demonstrator wearing a mask depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a prisoner uniform blocks a road during a protest against Netanyahu's government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 23, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

UN Chief Says It's Time to 'Truly Flood' Gaza with Aid And Calls Starvation There an Outrage

Samy Magdy, Amr Nabil and Sam Metz READ TIME: 4 MIN.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres stood near a long line of waiting trucks Saturday and declared it was time to "truly flood Gaza with lifesaving aid," calling the starvation inside the enclave a "moral outrage." He urged an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

Guterres spoke on the Egyptian side of the border not far from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where Israel plans to launch a ground assault despite widespread warnings of a potential catastrophe. More than half of Gaza's population has taken refuge there.

"Any further onslaught will make things even worse – worse for Palestinian civilians, worse for hostages and worse for all people in the region," Guterres said.

He spoke a day after the U.N. Security Council failed to reach consensus on the wording of a U.S.-sponsored resolution supporting "an immediate and sustained cease-fire."

Guterres repeatedly noted the difficulties of getting aid into Gaza, for which international aid agencies have largely blamed Israel.

"Here from this crossing, we see the heartbreak and heartlessness ... a long line of blocked relief trucks on one side of the gates, the long shadow of starvation on the other," he said.

About 7,000 aid trucks are waiting in Egypt's North Sinai province to enter Gaza, Gov. Mohammed Abdel-Fadeil Shousha said in a statement.

Guterres added: "It is time for an ironclad commitment by Israel for total ... access for humanitarian goods to Gaza, and in the Ramadan spirit of compassion, it is also time for the immediate release of all hostages." He later told journalists that a humanitarian cease-fire and hostage release should occur at the same time.

Hamas is believed to be holding around 100 hostages as well as the remains of 30 others taken in its Oct. 7 attack that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and sparked the war.

When asked about Guterres' comments, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to a social media post by Foreign Minister Israel Katz accusing the U.N. chief of allowing the world body to become "antisemitic and anti-Israeli."

An estimated 1.5 million Palestinians now shelter in Rafah after fleeing Israel's offensive elsewhere.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said an Israeli ground assault on Rafah would be "a mistake" and unnecessary in defeating Hamas. That marked a shift in the position for the United States, whose officials have concluded there is no credible way for getting civilians out of harm's way.

Netanyahu has vowed to press forward with military-approved plans for the offensive, which he has said is crucial to achieving the stated aim of destroying Hamas. The military has said Rafah is Hamas' last major stronghold and ground forces must target four battalions remaining there.

Again on Saturday night, Israelis protested in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against Netanyahu and the government amid fears that surviving hostages held in Gaza are in ever-worsening conditions months into the war.

Israel's invasion has killed more than 32,000 people, according to Gaza health officials, while leaving much of the enclave in ruins and displacing some 80% of the enclave's 2.3 million people. Gaza's Health Ministry said Saturday that the bodies of 72 people killed had been brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours.

The Health Ministry doesn't differentiate between civilians and combatants, but has said women and children make up the majority of the dead. Israel blames Hamas for civilian deaths and accuses it of operating within residential areas.

Fighting raged Saturday around Gaza's largest hospital. Israel's military says it has killed more than 170 militants in Shifa hospital since its raid began Monday, and the commanding officer of the Southern Command, Yaron Finkelman, on Friday said "we will finish this operation only when the last terrorist is in our hands."

Nearby Gaza City residents told The Associated Press that Israeli troops had blown up several residential buildings.

"They are emptying the whole area," said Abdel-Hay Saad, who lives on the western edge of Gaza City's Rimal neighborhood. Another resident, Mohammed al-Sheikh, said that intense Israeli bombardment was "hitting anything moving."

Associated Press footage showed columns of smoke billowing over the hospital area.

The Health Ministry said five wounded Palestinians trapped at Shifa had died without food, water, medical services. It previously said Israel's military had detained health workers, patients and relatives inside the complex. The military claimed it wasn't harming civilians, patients or workers.

"These conditions are utterly inhumane," the World Health Organization's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on social media late Friday,

Elsewhere, an older woman and five children were killed overnight in an Israeli airstrike on an area between Rafah and Khan Younis, health authorities said.

Hunger has become deadly, too. The U.N. and Israel's government again traded allegations over the lack of aid delivery to northern Gaza, the first target of Israel's offensive in the war and where anguished parents have reported watching children scavenge for bread in the rubble.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees – "the backbone of assistance in Gaza," Guterres said – said Israel had again denied permission for an aid convoy to deliver to northern Gaza. The agency, known as UNRWA, said that two months have passed since a convoy could reach there.

Israel's government replied by contending again that hundreds of aid trucks are waiting for the U.N. and partners to distribute it.

"No time for misinformation. Enough," UNRWA's communications director, Juliette Touma, told AP in response.


Samy Magdy reported from Cairo and Sam Metz from Rabat, Morocco. Jack Jeffery contributed to this report from Jerusalem.


Find more of AP's war coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

by Samy Magdy, Amr Nabil and Sam Metz

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