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AFP - The United Nations will resume aid distribution for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after receiving security assurances from Israel, the world body said in a statement late Friday.
The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the UN 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 UN personnel, installations and humanitarian operations would be fully respected."
"On this basis, UN staff movements suspended yesterday will resume as soon as possible," the two organizations said.
The UNRWA suspended operations in the enclave on Thursday after a UN convoy was hit by two Israeli tank shells, which killed one UN contract driver and injured a second
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has also restricted its Gaza operations after one of its vehicles was hit, apparently by Israeli fire.
The assurances were given Friday at a high-level meeting today at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv at which Israel "deeply regretted" the incidents and said they did not reflect official government policy, UN officials said.
The statement said the United Nations "will keep the safety and security of its staff under constant review."
Speaking by video link from Gaza, UNRWA Director of Operations John Ging said UN 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, UN 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 UN schools amid a shortage of blankets and other essentials, the officials said.
"It’s very good news we’ve received these assurances" from Israel, UN 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 among the 792 dead and 3,200 injured, according to Palestinian figures deemed credible by the United Nations.
Meanwhile, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran visited the town of Rafah on the Egyptian border with Gaza to get first-hand information on the humanitarian challenges there.
She pledged to provide food aid to some 360,000 of the non-refugee population in Gaza, up from 250,000 at present.
Sheeran also has sent a senior WFP team to Jerusalem to urge the Israeli authorities to grant freer humanitarian access to Gaza so that the agency can respond to the immediate food needs.
"It’s critical that WFP and all humanitarian workers have free and unfettered access to the people of Gaza at this difficult time," she said, adding that food supplies were waiting in warehouses to be distributed to the hungry.