The UN is calling on Israel to allow its staff and aid into Gaza as more than 50,000 internally displaced Palestinians seek shelter at UN facilities and with host families after Israeli bombardment leaves more than 200 civilians dead.

Palestinian family sit in a truck as they flee their house in Gaza amid Israeli bombardment on May 18, 2021.
Palestinian family sit in a truck as they flee their house in Gaza amid Israeli bombardment on May 18, 2021. (AP)

More than 58,000 Palestinians have been displaced by Israeli air strikes that have destroyed or badly damaged nearly 450 mainly civilian buildings in Gaza. Rights group Amnesty International says Israel air strikes on residential buildings may amount to war crimes.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) issued a statement on Tuesday, urgently calling on Israel to allow its staff and humanitarian supplies access to Gaza, "in accordance with its obligations under international law".

UNRWA said the agency did not receive approval for critical access to Gaza for essential humanitarian supplies to help the particularly vulnerable, including pregnant women, children, persons with disabilities and serious medical conditions and the elderly.

“UNRWA is urgently awaiting approval through established mechanisms to cross into Gaza,” Strategic Communications Director Tamara Alrifai said.

About 47,000 displaced civilians have sought shelter in 58 UN-run schools in Gaza, Jens Laerke, a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, told reporters. Another 16,000 people are staying with host families, UN OCHA said

Laerke said 132 buildings had been destroyed and 316 had been severely damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary healthcare centres as well a desalination plant, affecting access to drinking water for about 250,000 people.

The UN and its humanitarian partners are providing food and other assistance to displaced families when the security situation allows, Laerke said.

There is a severe shortage of medical supplies, a risk of water-borne diseases and the spread of Covid-19 because of displaced people crowding into schools, said Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization.

READ MORE: Israeli strikes target Gaza health infrastructure, sole Covid lab

War crimes

London-based Amnesty International called for an investigation into Israeli air strikes on residential buildings in Gaza.

"Israeli forces have displayed a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians by carrying out a number of air strikes targeting residential buildings in some cases killing entire families, including children, and causing wanton destruction to civilian property, in attacks that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity," Amnesty said.

Israel says it strikes only sites it deems military targets. It says that it regularly issues prior warnings to evacuate buildings it sees as legitimate targets. 

At least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children and 35 women, have been killed and 1,305 others injured in Israeli airstrikes, according to the latest figures.

Amnesty, which urged both sides last week not to violate humanitarian law, said it had documented four deadly attacks by Israel launched on residential homes without prior warning and called on the International Criminal Court to investigate.

It said Israeli strikes on May 11 destroyed two residential buildings belonging to the Abu al Ouf and al Kolaq families, killing 30 people, 11 of them children. A mother and three children were killed on May 14 when the al Atar family's three-storey building was hit, it said.

It said the home of Nader Mahmoud Mohammed al Thom, where he lives with eight others, was attacked without warning on May 15.

READ MORE: US approves $735M weapon sale to Israel as missiles bombard Gaza

Source: TRTWorld and agencies