The UN agency assisting Palestinian refugees has said that over 100,000 internally displaced people are seeking safety in its facilities amid deteriorating security conditions in the Gaza Strip as it appealed for USD 60 million for urgent humanitarian needs.
The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said the number of people seeking refuge with the agency, which has opened nearly 70 shelters, has exceeded 100,000.
It issued the emergency appeal for funds to respond to the urgent humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, including tens of thousands who have fled their homes in the wake of the Israeli military offensive that has killed more than 550 Palestinians and wounded over 3,500.
"This is a watershed moment for UNRWA, now that the number of people seeking refuge with us is more than double the figure we saw in the 2009 Gaza conflict. We are seeing a huge wave of accelerated displacement because of the Israeli ground offensive," UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said.
As the number of casualties and injured civilians rises in the Gaza Strip, aid agencies have geared up for the emergency response and mobilised relief supplies from the International Humanitarian City (IHC) in Dubai.
The supplies have been donated to UNRWA for thousands of vulnerable displaced families in Gaza.
A special airlift in support of displaced families in Gaza began on Sunday from Dubai, where a 747 cargo took off carrying 115 metric tons of aid, containing 45,000 mattresses, 10,000 blankets and 220 hygiene kits.
"We are very grateful for the immediate reaction and most generous response we received from Dubai and all the IHC members to our call for help," UNRWA Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl said.
In the coming days, more airlifts are scheduled to arrive in Amman, from where UNRWA will truck the aid into Gaza for distribution. UNRWA plans to expand the scope of the donations to include emergency food parcels as stocks of food and other essential goods dwindle.
The agency said the main priority for humanitarian agencies continues to be the provision of food, water, mattresses and hygiene items, as well as fuel for essential water, health and sewage facilities.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon has urged all parties to rally around collective international efforts to obtain an end to bloodshed in Gaza and Israel and reach a ceasefire, as he continued his visit to the region with a stop in Cairo.
"Palestinians and Israelis deserve freedom ? freedom from siege, rockets, missiles, artillery and airstrikes. They deserve a future of hope, peace and justice," Ban said.
Ban was in Egypt yesterday on the third leg of a regional tour aimed at ending the two-week long violence.
The trip, which began on Sunday, has already taken him to Qatar and Kuwait and will include stops in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman as part of efforts to encourage a durable ceasefire.
The World Food Programme continues to provide daily food rations, together with UNRWA, and more than 50,000 people have received emergency assistance in the last few days.