Israel Frees Gazan Hospital Official Whose Detention Prompted Outrage

A Palestinian woman baking bread Sunday in a makeshift oven in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip.Credit…Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The United Nations’ top relief official, Martin Griffiths, stepped down on Sunday, adding another layer of uncertainty to struggling efforts to get food, fuel and other supplies into Gaza, where almost nine months of war have brought an array of dire threats to the civilian population, including catastrophic hunger.

The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, has not named a permanent replacement for Mr. Griffiths, whose departure from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, for health reasons, was announced in March.

“To my fellow humanitarians, it’s been my honor to lead you, represent you and learn from you,” Mr. Griffiths wrote in a post on social media on Sunday. “Yours is one of the most important jobs in the world: bringing hope, compassion, survival and humanity to people in their darkest hour.”

However, the relief efforts in Gaza have fallen far short of the needs of the sealed, densely populated enclave in which the majority of the population of some 2.2 million has been displaced. In May, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing after a Hamas attack killed four soldiers in the area, then mounted an incursion that closed the Rafah crossing along the border with Egypt. U.N. officials said this effectively choked off the two main arteries for aid.

For most of the last month, aid deliveries within Gaza have slowed to a near halt. Hopes to revive them via a temporary pier built by the United States have largely been thwarted, partly by weather conditions that have more than once forced the pier to be moved from Gaza’s coast, and partly by the difficulty of distributing the aid once it arrives.

The U.N.’s main agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, earlier this month said that Gaza had become the deadliest place in the world for aid workers, with at least 250 killed since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel sparked the war in Gaza and a humanitarian crisis. U.N. aid agencies have demanded that the Israeli authorities do more to protect aid workers in the Gaza Strip and ensure that assistance reaches those who need it, Stéphane Dujarric, a U.N. spokesman, said on Tuesday.

On Friday, a Pentagon spokeswoman, Sabrina Singh, said that the temporary pier had been removed again ahead of sea turbulence, while indicating that the backlog of aid was taking up so much space that re-establishing the pier might not be a top priority.

Days earlier, in a social media post directed at the World Food Program, a U.N. agency that coordinates much of the humanitarian work in the enclave, the Israeli agency overseeing aid in Gaza displayed a photo of supplies that it said were waiting at the pier’s offloading area. “Stop making excuses and start playing your role as a humanitarian food organization and the head of the logistic cluster,” it said.

The World Food Program suspended operations near the pier earlier this month. The program’s officials said some of its facilities were hit during an Israeli mission that rescued four hostages but involved strikes that killed scores of Palestinians, including women and children.

In his last week as U.N. relief chief, Mr. Griffiths addressed concerns that the suspension might forecast the halt of all aid groups’ operations in Gaza. “We’re not running away from Gaza at all,” Mr. Griffiths said in an interview on Wednesday. But he added, “We are particularly concerned about the security situation in Gaza, and it is becoming more and more difficult to operate.”

On Sunday, a World Food Program spokeswoman confirmed that the organization’s suspension of operations at the pier remained in place, pending a security review by the U.N.’s safety and security arm, but said that the aid group had made arrangements to start clearing the backlog of undelivered aid and that it would “be distributed immediately.”

Anjana Sankar contributed reporting.

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