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U.N. Security Council aims to get aid to Palestinians in Gaza faster

ASMA KHALID, HOST:

There seems to be no end in sight to Israel's war in Gaza. Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Israeli troops in Gaza and reasserted his country's commitment to, quote, "deepening the fighting in coming days." This all comes despite global calls for a cease-fire and despite growing pressure to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Last week, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution to appoint a special coordinator for aid as a way to help get more aid into the Palestinian enclave more quickly. But it's not clear what the next steps will be. Juliette Touma is director of communications with United Nations Relief Agency focused on Palestinian refugees, commonly known as UNRWA, and she joins me now. It's great to have you with us.

JULIETTE TOUMA: Thank you very much, Asma.

KHALID: The U.N. resolution that was hammered out took place under politicians and diplomats. That's how it was hammered out. How does it correspond with the reality on the ground in Gaza? What are the most urgent needs facing the nearly 2 million people there?

TOUMA: The needs on the ground are huge. People lost everything, and they need everything. And now, with the rainy season, it's everything from warm clothes to blankets. But most urgently is food and water and I think above all is protection and safety.

KHALID: So what is your biggest concern about meeting those needs?

TOUMA: It's that we're not getting enough aid in, it's that we are restricted to deliver aid wherever we need to deliver, including to some remote areas in the north. It's - the overwhelming needs is the ongoing and expansion of the military campaign that forces more people out of their homes and more people into U.N. shelters that are currently way, way overcrowded.

KHALID: The U.N. resolution that we mentioned at the top here, it calls on appointing a special coordinator to get aid into Gaza. What conversations have you all had about this, and is it, Juliette, a realistic mandate under the current conditions in Gaza?

TOUMA: Look, what really needs to happen in Gaza is more assistance, more humanitarian relief to come in and also, at the same time, a humanitarian cease-fire. It is time for that. There's no question about that. What we're asking for is very straightforward.

KHALID: What's been the major bottleneck in getting that aid? You said additional aid needs to get in, but it's not been able to get in.

TOUMA: Very, very little amount of aid has been allowed in. There's a cumbersome inspection process. There was a total hermetic siege for two weeks where nothing came in, and those supplies have never been replenished. We have been getting in very little in comparison to the 500 trucks of commercial aid and humanitarian supplies. In none of the days since the war began have we come to that amount of trucks. None. What came in is only 10% of what needs to come.

KHALID: I want to ask you a bit of a personal question. The secretary general of the U.N. has said that in all of the history of the United Nations, the organization has never witnessed the death of its staff in such large numbers as it has these last couple of months in Gaza. You all with UNRWA have lost so many people. How are you and your colleagues mentally just going on in the face of these losses?

TOUMA: Yeah. We lost more than 140 colleagues at UNRWA. They were all killed during the war. And the agency will never be the same without them. And yes, this is the highest number of aid workers killed since the establishment of the United Nations.

KHALID: Juliette Touma is director of communications with UNRWA - the United Nations Relief Agency focused on Palestinian refugees. Thank you so much.

TOUMA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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