UN envoys from the security council have made a whirlwind trip to Egypt’s Rafah Crossing into Gaza in what is being seen as a urgent attempt to try to halt the war.
The trip went ahead under heavy security as there were further signs of a deterioration in law and order – with starving Gazans becoming more and more desperate to find food and water.
Camera teams inside the Gaza Strip filmed yet more frantic scenes, showing crowds scavenging around water bottles which appeared to have fallen off an aid truck.
The truck was filmed moving at speed with a number of men, one armed, sitting on top of the aid as if they were guarding the cargo.
The UN trip to the border was hastily organised by the United Arab Emirates, the sole Arab representative on the Security Council, in the wake of the failure to agree on an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
We were part of the entourage that accompanied the diplomats, which included representatives from Russia, China, Brazil, Albania, Japan, Slovenia and the UK- but did not include the US.
All 15 members of the security council were invited, including some of the incoming rotating non-permanent members.
The US and France were the only two of the five permanent members to not take up the invitation.
In a heavily embargoed visit due to security concerns, the group was whisked around key areas, as well as the border crossing, to give them first-hand experience of the difficulties in delivering aid and the size of the problem facing agencies.
With the truce collapsing about a week ago, the number of aid trucks entering Gaza has dwindled to sometimes not more than 50 a day.
Nearly 90% of the 2.3 million citizens of Gaza are displaced, thousands are dead and wounded, and the number of operating hospitals reduced to a fraction compared to before the Hamas attack on Israel.
‘Israel not holding up aid’
But even as the trip went ahead, Israeli spokespeople insisted they were not to blame for the log-jam of aid trucks on the roads leading to the border crossing.
Eylon Levy, speaking on behalf of the Israeli government, said they’d opened a second crossing to ease aid delivery through Kareem Shalom – the only other Israeli border with Gaza in the south.
“There’s no hold up on the Israeli side,” Mr Levy insisted. He hinted the paucity of aid reaching Gazans was down to poor coordination by the organisational bodies responsible on the other side of the border.
“The problem is the bottleneck at the Rafah crossing, and the problem is that international agencies are not keeping pace. Israel is not placing any restrictions on humanitarian necessities in the Strip,” he added.
Sky News has not been able to independently confirm whether the Kareem Shalom border is fully open or how it is operating.
The UAE’s UN ambassador, Lana Nusseibeh, said it is still only being used to scan and check aid trucks before they enter Gaza – but the trucks are then re-routed to the nearby Rafah crossing – which before the war was intended only as a pedestrian crossing.
She told Sky News: “There’s a lot of blame going round. There are over 17,000 dead Palestinians from this conflict from Israel’s attack on Gaza, and 60% of them, 70% of them, are woman and children – so there’s a dire situation on the ground in Gaza that we have to address.
“More broadly, on humanitarian aid, I think we need some kind of monitoring mechanism that is efficient,” she added.
“What we are seeing here, with trucks lining up the border on the way in, is not efficient on that scale. Kareem Shalom has to be opened and it should become a crossing point, as much as a scanning point for aid to go in.
“Palestinians are the future neighbours of the state of Israel. How you treat your neighbours is going to define what happens for decades to come and the kind of peace we want in the region.”
‘Let down by the UN’
The UN diplomats were driven in buses past lengthy lines of aid trucks parked up along the road leading to the border crossing, as well as parked in nearby Arish town, waiting to be checked before getting permission to go inside Gaza.
Accompanied by Egyptian police escorts and a van flying a prominent white flag, the convoy was also taken to Arish hospital to see injured and wounded Palestinians, as well as shown a Red Crescent warehouse stacked full of essentials including food, medicines, water purifiers and cold weather clothing.
When the group reached the Rafah crossing, Sarah Badr, a young woman from the World Youth Forum, interrupted the visit to urge them to use their influence to stop the war.
“When I visited the United Nations when I was much younger I was so proud because of the declaration of human rights and what it represented,” she said.
“We just want peace, peace on both sides.”
Security council members who voted for a ceasefire were frustrated by the failure because of the US veto.
The ambassador for China, Zhang Jun, told Sky News: “This is really a tragic event, not just for the Palestinians, but for the whole world. We should not allow it to continue. It has been too long.”
But like many of the other ambassadors, they vowed to continue the battle for a ceasefire and a lasting peace.
“This is clearly the will of the international community,” the UAE’s ambassador to the UN said. “And we have to look at a two-state solution and how to create peace in the region.”
The diplomatic group was also able to interact virtually via screens with doctors and patients at the new UAE field hospital inside Gaza in Rafah – and was taken to the opening of a new desalination plant that will pump fresh water to 300,000 people.
As the diplomatic group was being driven by the heavily fortified wall separating Egypt from Gaza, the ambassadors could see smoke from bombings on the other side and what appeared to be rocket fire – as well as Palestinians waving to them and standing on ridges on the Gaza side.
“Enough is enough,” Zhang Jun said.