The United Nations will resume aid distribution for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after receiving security assurances from Israel, as a collection of funds for Gaza's civilians in the UAE reached $86 million in one day, organizers said Saturday.
The U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) said in a joint statement that the United Nations had received "credible assurances that the security of U.N. personnel, installations and humanitarian operations would be fully respected."
"On this basis, U.N. staff movements suspended yesterday will resume as soon as possible," the two organizations said.
Shelling UN convoy
The UNRWA suspended operations in the enclave on Thursday after a U.N. convoy was hit by two Israeli tank shells, which killed one U.N. contract driver and injured a second. The attack followed others on four U.N.-run schools that killed at least 48.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also restricted its Gaza operations after one of its vehicles was hit by Israeli fire.
The assurances were given Friday at a high-level meeting today at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv at which Israel "deeply regretted" the incidents and said they did not reflect official government policy, U.N. officials said.
The statement said the United Nations "will keep the safety and security of its staff under constant review."
Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to Austria, Dan Ashbel, justified Israeli strikes on U.N. schools and said the aid organizations in Gaza had been infiltrated by Hamas.
"Do you know who the UNRWA's (U.N. Relief and Works Agency) workers are today in Gaza: they are Hamas people who distribute aid to those loyal to Hamas," Ashbel said in the interview with the Austrian weekly "profil."
"Even this aid organisation has been taken over by Hamas and is being used as a weapon against its own people," he added.
"The damage that was caused only occurred because there was a Hamas weapons depot under the school," he said.
The U.N. has denied there were militants in the school.
Speaking by video link from Gaza, UNRWA Director of Operations John Ging said U.N. aid workers were "very relieved."
He added that hundreds of thousands of Gazans are in dire need of food, water and other essentials in the wake of Israel's two-week-old assault on the Palestinian territory.
Eighty percent of Gaza's 1.5 million population are in dire need of assistance, U.N. officials said.
They described the health situation as "extremely worrying," adding that hospital staff have difficulty getting to their places of work.
Most of Gaza is without power, solid sewage waste is piling up, and over 21,000 people are now sheltering in U.N. schools amid a shortage of blankets and other essentials, the officials said.
"It's very good news we've received these assurances" from Israel, U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told a briefing.
But he said the humanitarian situation in Gaza was "the same if not worse." Holmes added that civilians were not safe anywhere in Gaza and underscored the rising civilian toll hit more than 800 dead and 3,200 injured, according to Palestinian figures deemed credible by the United Nations.
In related news, a collection in the United Arab Emirates for funds to help Gaza's civilians raised nearly $86 million in its first day.
The fund-raising campaign, which began on Friday with a telethon, is due to continue until the first week of February, said Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed al-Nahayan, who is also head of the Emirati Red Crescent.
UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum have also each offered to pay for the construction of 600 houses in Gaza to accommodate families left homeless by the Israeli onslaught, officials said.
Gaza solidarity demonstrations were held on Friday in four of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, after the interior ministry granted authorization, a rarity in the Gulf federation where street protests are generally outlawed.
Demonstrators chanted slogans in support of the people in Gaza and at a rally in the emirate of Sharjah an Israeli flag was burned.