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CRS Warns of ‘Unprecedented Suffering’ in Gaza if Aid Isn’t Allowed in Immediately

Smoke rises amid destroyed buildings in the Gaza Strip as seen from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel Oct. 18, 2023. (Photo: OSV News/Amir Cohen, Reuters)

PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Following an Oct. 18 announcement from Israel and President Joe Biden that humanitarian aid will be allowed into Gaza from Egypt, the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services is calling for the implementation of a plan to do so immediately.

The call comes as more than 2 million people remain trapped in Gaza amid a conflict between Israel and Hamas — which began with Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel — that continues to escalate. Observers say people trapped in Gaza are desperate for food, water, electricity, shelter, medicine, and other essentials.

Sean Callahan, the president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, said Oct. 18 that it’s impossible to relocate the approximate 2 million in Gaza in the middle of the conflict, and that if something isn’t done soon there will be “unprecedented levels of suffering.”

“The situation of civilians in Gaza is extremely alarming and desperate, and we need to act now to prevent a total humanitarian catastrophe,” Callahan said in a statement.

“Millions are currently trapped, including 1 million children, in a nightmare of violence and displacement, with no end in sight,” Callahan said. “They need urgent humanitarian action. We cannot stand by and watch them suffer. We must act now to save lives and restore hope.”

Since Oct. 7, electricity has been cut off and no food, water, fuel, or other goods have been allowed into Gaza. A land, air, and sea blockade has been in place in Gaza since 2007, so emergency supplies are also limited in the region. CRS said it stands ready to help those in the region with emergency food, water and living supplies, safe shelters, protection, and trauma counseling as soon as allowed.

CRS — the U.S. bishops’ international humanitarian agency — has 50 staff in Gaza. The organization has had a presence in the Holy Land since 1961, providing services such as emergency relief, health care, and education, as well as implementing peace building programs.

Biden announced on Oct. 18 that the United States is providing $100 million in humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. The president said the funding will help support those displaced and affected by the conflict with clean water, food, hygiene support, medical care, and other essential needs. He also noted that civilians are not to blame for the conflict and must be helped.

“Civilians are not to blame and should not suffer for Hamas’ horrific terrorism. Civilian lives must be protected and assistance must urgently reach those in need,” Biden said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with partners in the region to stress the importance of upholding the law of war, supporting those who are trying to get to safety or provide assistance, and facilitating access to food, water, medical care, and shelter.”

Later in the day, Biden said that after speaking to the Israeli cabinet — who had been reluctant to provide humanitarian assistance, fearing it would get in the hands of Hamas — earlier that morning, that they had agreed to deliver humanitarian assistance to Gaza. According to Biden, Israel agreed to allow humanitarian assistance to move from Egypt into Gaza with the understanding that there will be inspections and that the aid will go to civilians and not Hamas.

Callahan said CRS appreciates the announcement, but noted the process must start soon.

“We appreciate the president’s call for respect for the human dignity of all and his announcement that humanitarian aid will be allowed into Gaza from Egypt,” Callahan said. “Civilians in Gaza cannot wait any longer and this plan must be implemented immediately.”