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Aid agencies in Gaza would benefit if the truce between Israel and Hamas is extended

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Today is the last day of a four-day truce between Hamas and Israel. The two sides have been exchanging hostages for prisoners since last Friday. Now, both are indicating that they would be open to more releases to extend the temporary truce. Around 1,200 people were killed in Hamas attacks on Israel last month, and Palestinian health officials in Gaza say Israel's military response to the attacks has so far killed at least 13,300 people in the Gaza Strip. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, more than 1.7 million people have been displaced across the Gaza Strip since the war began.

For more on how the pause is unfolding, I have Juliette Touma on the line. She's UNRWA's director of communications and is joining us from the Jordanian capital, Amman. Juliette, so what are you hearing from your staff since the truce began on Friday?

JULIETTE TOUMA: What our staff are relieved about is the period of calm that they've been going through in the past few days. You see, I'm just back from Gaza, myself. I was there just before the pause kicked in, and it was very heavy bombardment during the day, during the night. In fact, I was awoken, myself, to the sound of heavy bombardment. So first and foremost, it is very welcome. There is a bit of respite for people after 50 days of very, very brutal war.

MARTÍNEZ: How much aid have you been able to deliver since this pause began?

TOUMA: It is safe to say that we've seen an increase in the number of aid trucks coming in. Humanitarian supplies have been flowing in a much smoother way in comparison to how it was before the pause began, and that is, of course, very welcome. Much more is needed. Fuel is also coming in. Cooking gas is coming in. So these are major breakthroughs and a significant improvement.

Now, what we really need is for this flow to continue, to continue to be regular, and also to give a boost to the private sector, so in addition to humanitarian supplies, for commercial supplies to come in. Nothing is open in Gaza. Driving through the streets, all the shops are closed. All the pharmacies are closed. Apart from a few vegetable stalls here and there, there is no market.

MARTÍNEZ: Is there any particular item that is most needed right now?

TOUMA: We're speaking here about 80% of the population of Gaza that have been - has been forced to flee their homes. Some of them have fled their homes overnight, some with just the clothes on them. I mean, I met a man who said to me, you know, the jacket that I'm wearing I've been wearing for the past 45 days. Right? So people have lost everything, and they need everything.

MARTÍNEZ: Your agency has reported at least 108 workers killed in this war. What does that figure tell us about how things are in terms of conditions on the ground?

TOUMA: These are my colleagues - 108 UNRWA colleagues who have been killed since the war began in the Gaza Strip. This is the highest number of U.N. aid workers killed in the history of the United Nations. It's not a number. I also have to remind myself that these are not statistics. These are teachers, doctors, engineers, people who are the backbone of the largest U.N. operations in the Gaza Strip. And it is quite staggering. It is quite staggering. And we will not be the same without these colleagues.

MARTÍNEZ: And yet, you still go in there and still try to help. We know that another group of hostages is expected to be released today. What do we know about how the remaining hostages are - what their condition is?

TOUMA: This is not an area that UNRWA follows on. We welcome the release of hostages and prisoners. We do hope that the pause - the humanitarian pause continues. We also hope and call for the transformation of that pause into a much longer-term humanitarian cease-fire across the board.

MARTÍNEZ: If the pause does not continue, how are you preparing for the end of that truce tomorrow?

TOUMA: Well, look, we are hoping that it would, and we are calling that it becomes a long-term humanitarian cease-fire. It's been a brutal, brutal war with so many losses on all sides. It has got to stop.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Juliette Touma, director of communications for UNRWA. Thank you very much.

TOUMA: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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