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UN agency warns of 'halt' to Gaza aid operations


A UN agency warned it could be forced to stop aid operations in war-riven Gaza on Wednesday due to dwindling fuel supplies, as calls mounted for a humanitarian "pause" in fighting. After 18 days of withering Israeli air strikes and a near-total land, sea, and air blockade of the Palestinian territory, UN refugee agency UNRWA warned operations were at breaking point.

"If we do not get fuel urgently, we will be forced to halt our operations in the Gaza Strip," said the UN agency, which provides aid to 600,000 displaced Gazans.

But there is growing international unease about the impact of Israel's "Operation Swords of Iron", which has killed thousands of Palestinians.

Gaza's health ministry claims 5,791 people have been killed in the war so far, many of them children.

Tuesday's toll was more than 700 people, the ministry said, with the UN saying it was the highest reported in a single day since the war began.

AFP has not been able to independently verify these figures. Aid agencies report hospitals are overwhelmed, generators lack fuel and shelters are heaving under the weight of an estimated 1.4 million displaced -- more than half the population.

Since the war began a few dozen trucks with essential supplies have been allowed to cross the Egyptian border into Gaza, far fewer than necessary according to aid agencies.

The Palestine Red Crescent said Tuesday it had received the fourth batch of humanitarian aid, consisting of eight trucks. The supplies have included medicines, food, and water, but not fuel, which Israel fears could end up in Hamas's hands.

- 'Epic suffering' - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said Gaza was now seeing "epic suffering" while calling on Israel to safeguard civilians. "The relentless bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, the level of civilian casualties, and the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods continue to mount and are deeply alarming," he told the UN Security Council in New York. "I am deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza," he said. "Let me be clear: No party to an armed conflict is above international humanitarian law."

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