World Central Kitchen pauses operations in Rafah, aid workers warn humanitarian response on brink of 'collapse'

WCK said it is trying to relocate many of its kitchens further north.

World Central Kitchen (WCK) said it has paused its operations in Rafah due to "ongoing attacks" by Israeli forces as aid organizations warned the humanitarian response is on the brink of "collapse."

The announcement comes as Israel's offensive on Rafah -- the southern city on the Gaza-Egypt border -- continues with a series of strikes resuming Wednesday morning. On Sunday, an Israeli airstrike struck tents sheltering displaced people, killing at least 45 civilians, which Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a "tragic incident."

"In the face of Israeli operations in Rafah, countless families are being forced to flee once again," WCK said in a statement on the social platform X. "Ongoing attacks have forced us to pause work at our main kitchen in Rafah and relocate many of our community kitchens further north."

Despite the fighting, WCK said in its statement that it provided 100,000 meals on Monday and would continue to increase capacity this week, adding that 58 of its aid trucks have entered Gaza since Sunday.

The group had only recently resumed operations after seven workers were accidentally killed in an Israeli airstrike at the beginning of April.

WCK isn't the only humanitarian organization struggling to continue aid operations. Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said in a press release that "no amount of meaningful aid has entered the enclave" since May 6.

Additionally, MSF said staff and patients at trauma stabilization point in Rafah were forced to flee on Monday night due to intense fighting, effectively putting a stop to all medical aid at the facility.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) dropped leaflets in Rafah on May 6 and sent text messages in Arabic calling for about 100,000 people to evacuate the eastern part of the city and to head north to the Al-Mawasi humanitarian corridor ahead of a long-promised major ground invasion into Rafah.

About 1 million people, as of Tuesday, have since fled Rafah in search of safety, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini.

Despite the heavy fighting, the White House maintained on Tuesday that Israel did not cross any red lines in Rafah. White House national security spokesman John Kirby condemned the loss of life in Rafah over the weekend but did not condemn Israel directly, saying Israel "has a right to go after Hamas."

In a joint statement, 19 aid agencies -- including MSF -- said Israel's offensive has "crumbled" the ability of aid groups and medical teams to respond and said there will be an "an acceleration in deaths from starvation, disease and denied medical assistance" unless a cease-fire is reached.

"As Israeli attacks intensify on Rafah, the unpredictable trickle of aid into Gaza has created a mirage of improved access while the humanitarian response is in reality on the verge of collapse," the statement read.

The aid organization said nearly every hospital in Gaza is in an area that has been given evacuation orders and all are close to running out of fuel and supplies.

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday in a post on X that WHO workers and partners were able to reach Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City for the first time since May 13, delivering fuel, beds and medical supplies to meet the needs of 1,500 patients. The hospital is currently at twice the capacity it was designed for, but no emergency surgery can be performed due to the lack of specialized staff, Tedros said.

"Gaza's health system has effectively been dismantled." the statement said. "Medical workers across Gaza say patients are dying daily due to a shortage in medical supplies, as doctors, nurses, and other health workers continue to be killed or forcibly displaced."

Since Hamas launched a surprise terrorist attack in Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, and Israel responded by declaring war, more than 36,171 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 81,420 have been injured, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. More than 1,700 Israelis have been killed and more than 8,700 have been injured, according to Israeli officials.