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As Israel says it will send more troops into southern Gaza, millions run out of food

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have an update on the war in the Mideast. Israel is recommitting to sending more troops into southern Gaza as hundreds of thousands of people run out of food. Trucks this morning started rolling across a new floating pier, anchored to the Gaza shoreline by the U.S. military, but the U.N. agency in charge of aid to Palestinians says other crossings remain closed. We're going to get an update now from Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, also known as UNRWA. Welcome to the program, sir.

PHILIPPE LAZZARINI: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How much difference can that floating pier make?

LAZZARINI: Listen, we believe at the U.N. that the pier is certainly welcome but will not be a substitute to the land crossing in the Gaza Strip. So it will certainly help, but it will not be at scale enough to respond to the extraordinary needs of the population. You know that right now, most of the crossings in the south in Rafah and Kerem Shalom are closed since the offensive started on May 6. And now, we have the first day of the pier, but we still have to see if the commodities they brought in will - we will be able to move in because we are primarily also operating in a combat zone.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And let's just talk through what you just said. Since October 7, a number of border crossings into Gaza have been closed by Israel. Now even the crossings that were sort of open are closed by Israeli troops as they move in on the city of Rafah, which is where a main border crossing is or was. Let's talk about the situation within Gaza, then. We're told that there's no more food. What does that mean? Does that really mean nothing more?

LAZZARINI: Well, there is no food available for distribution anymore. And what is at stake now is that all our efforts might be reversed because, as you know, over the last few months, we have been engaged in a race against the clock to reverse the looming famine. And I think we have made a certain number of - again, more trucks have come in during the months of April, and all of suddenly, since May 6, nothing enter anymore. And the risk right now with 1 million people again on the road - and this is not the first time they're on the road because they are forced to be displaced because of the combat. People are living with nothing, and the agencies have no stock available to provide assistance.

INSKEEP: There was an effort or has been an effort to move aid convoys from Jordan. And I should mention you're in Amman, Jordan, right now. Aid convoys from Jordan across Israeli territory, the West Bank and Israeli territory and then getting to northern Gaza. And we've watched on social media and elsewhere as settlers attack some of these aid convoys, sometimes burning the trucks. Is any aid getting through?

LAZZARINI: This has been totally outrageous that these trucks have been attacked, have been prevented to reach the Gaza Strip. But the reality today is that there have been more trucks during the month of May which enters northern Gaza than the total number of trucks which came in in April and May. So there have been some improvement in northern Gaza from trucks coming from Erez, coming from Jordan. But the reality is that we are very concerned today with the situation in the south.

INSKEEP: Have Israeli authorities committed in a way that is credible to you to secure those convoys and allow them through?

LAZZARINI: Until now, convoys have never been really secure. We operate in a combat zone. I think convoys have been secured just to enter into the buffer zone. But unfortunately, our real challenge today is to move, in fact, the food and the assistance within the Gaza Strip because of the military operation.

INSKEEP: If food has run out and if not enough is getting in, is it just a matter of math that people are starving to death and are going to starve to death?

LAZZARINI: I think it's a matter of time. There is no doubt about this. In the coming weeks, we will also have a new survey indicating the scope of the hunger and starvation in the Gaza Strip. But clearly, if the crossings are not reopening in the days to come, we will be confronted again to starvation and looming famine.

INSKEEP: Philippe Lazzarini is commissioner general of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Thank you very much, sir.

LAZZARINI: You're welcome. Thank you.

INSKEEP: You can find more coverage of the war with differing views and perspectives at npr.org/middleeast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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