Israeli forces shot at a United Nations convoy of armored vehicles in central Gaza on Thursday evening as it was returning from delivering aid in the northern part of the territory, U.N. officials said.
No one in the convoy was injured, the officials said, but the episode highlighted the severe challenges facing humanitarian efforts to help Palestinians struggling to survive amid Israel’s nearly 12-week bombardment of the enclave.
“Israeli soldiers fired at an aid convoy as it returned from northern Gaza along a route designated by the Israeli Army,” Thomas White, the Gaza director for UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, wrote on social media. He said that one vehicle in the convoy had been damaged, adding: “Aid workers should never be a target.”
The Israeli military did not immediately comment when asked about the episode.
The convoy, whose vehicles were marked with U.N. insignia, was returning from delivering aid, including flour. It was south of Gaza City when it came under fire, Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for UNRWA, said in an interview. Before setting out to deliver the aid, the convoy had coordinated its plans with the Israeli military and notified it of the routes it would take, she added.
Ms. Touma said that the Israeli military had told the convoy to take a different route, which it did. “They rerouted and then the shooting happened,” she said.
Aid workers and deliveries have come under fire before during Israel’s nearly 12-week military offensive in Gaza.
UNRWA says that 142 of its employees have been killed, among the more than 20,000 Palestinians that the Gazan Health Ministry says have been killed in the Israeli air and ground offensive. Israel began striking Gaza on Oct. 7 after Hamas, the armed group which controls Gaza, carried out an attack in southern Israel that killed some 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.
Most UNRWA staff members have been forced to flee their homes, and the severe restrictions on aid and fuel entering the territory, as well as road closures ordered by the Israeli military and extensive damage from its bombardment, have vastly limited the agency’s ability to work. The situation has remained dire despite the passage last week of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would allow more aid to reach Gazan civilians and that demanded “safe and unhindered humanitarian access.” The resolution stopped short of calling for a cease-fire.
“It’s very difficult to deliver assistance and humanitarian relief during a war zone when there is active conflict,” Ms. Touma said.
On Nov. 18, a Doctors Without Borders convoy attempting to evacuate people sheltering in a hospital came under fire in Gaza City, killing two people, the group said. It blamed Israel for what it said was a deliberate attack against vehicles emblazoned with the group’s logo.
Two days later, the group’s facilities in Gaza City came under attack when shots were fired while its employees were sheltering inside, the group said. Doctors Without Borders asked the Israeli authorities for a formal explanation and called for an independent investigation. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Nov. 7, a medical convoy of the International Committee of the Red Cross came under fire in Gaza City, lightly wounding a driver and damaging two trucks, the aid group said. It did not say who was to blame for the attack.
UNRWA says that up to 1.9 million people — more than 85 percent of Gaza’s population — have been displaced from their homes, and that nearly 1.4 million are sheltering in facilities operated by the agency.
As it struggles to deliver aid, agency officials say that desperate Gazans facing acute hunger are stopping U.N. aid trucks, taking food off them and devouring it on the spot.
“The very little supplies that continue to be allowed into Gaza have led to very high levels of desperation among the communities,” Ms. Touma said. “So it’s no surprise that people are coming to aid trucks and taking food and in many cases they are eating it then and there.”