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UN chief visits Gaza border in new plea for ceasefire

UN chief visits Gaza border in new plea for ceasefire


UN chief visits Gaza border in new plea for ceasefire

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AL ARISH, Egypt (Reuters) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will visit Egypt's border with Gaza on Saturday to renew pleas for a ceasefire that could bring relief to a territory devastated by more than five months of war between Israel and Hamas.

His trip comes as Israel threatens to launch a major military operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, just over the border from Egypt, despite international appeals against such an attack.

A majority of Gaza's 2.3 million residents are sheltering around Rafah. Though conditions are worse in the north of the strip, the plight of civilians across the territory has deteriorated sharply as the conflict has ground on.

Guterres arrived on Saturday in Al Arish in Egypt's northern Sinai, where much of the international relief for Gaza is delivered and stockpiled.

Receiving him, regional governor Mohamed Shusha said some 7,000 trucks were waiting in North Sinai to deliver aid to Gaza, but that inspection procedures demanded by Israel had held up the flow of relief, according to a statement from Shusha's office.

Guterres is expected to visit a hospital in Al Arish where Palestinians evacuated from Gaza are receiving treatment, and meet UN humanitarian workers on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, one of the entry points for the aid.

As hopes for a truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have faded and the humanitarian situation in Gaza has become more desperate, the United States and other countries have sought to use air drops and ships to deliver more relief.

The United Nations Security Council on Friday turned down a US-led resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and an Israel-Hamas hostage deal, after Russia and China vetoed the measure - a move White House spokesman John Kirby said was 'hardly a surprise.'

But humanitarian agencies say that only about one-fifth of the required amount of supplies has been entering Gaza, and that the only way to meet needs in coastal enclave is to rapidly accelerate deliveries by road.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas and is worried that the Palestinian group will divert aid, has kept all but one of its land crossings into the enclave closed. It opened its Kerem Shalom crossing close to Rafah in late December and denies accusations by Egypt and UN aid agencies that it has delayed deliveries of humanitarian relief.

This week, a global food monitor warned that famine was imminent in northern Gaza and could spread to other parts of the territory if a ceasefire is not agreed.

More than 32,000 people have been killed by Israel's military campaign in Gaza, many of them women and children, according to local health authorities.

Israel launched the assault in response to an attack by Hamas in which some 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

Guterres, who made one previous trip to Egypt's border with Gaza shortly after the war broke out, is visiting Egypt and Jordan as part of an annual "solidarity trip" to Muslim countries during Ramadan.

While in the Egyptian capital Cairo, he is due to break the daily fast with refugees from Sudan, where war between rival military factions has displaced nearly 8.5 million people, driven parts of the population to extreme hunger, and led to waves of ethnically-driven killings in Darfur.