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Canadian trapped in Gaza says first load of aid barely helping humanitarian crisis

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Mahmoud Nasser says finding a sip of water in Gaza continues to be a life and death mission for many, even though truckloads of key supplies began rolling back into the enclave on Saturday for the first time since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war.

The 30-year-old, who relocated to the Palestinian territory from Mississauga, Ont., in 2021 to take care of his aging father, says 20 trucks that were allowed in through the border crossing between Egypt and Gaza have barely made a dent in the humanitarian crisis residents are experiencing all around him.

Those deliveries represent a fraction of the usual supply flow into the territory currently controlled by Hamas, and more than 200 trucks carrying 3,000 tons of aid have been waiting nearby for days. Israel cut off food, fuel and other supplies to the region and launched numerous air strikes in response to Hamas' deadly invasion of Israeli towns launched on Oct. 7. The ensuing war -- the latest of five -- is already the deadliest such conflict for both sides.

Nasser says he continues to witness people openly fighting one another for water and food.

"Water is the biggest struggle ... we're on the hunt every day," he said in a phone interview from the southern city of Khan Yunis, where he's sheltering in a home that is crowded from "wall to wall" with about 50 others.

"My wife is five months pregnant and I worry a lot because today we ran out of bottled water and she's drinking dirty water and I'm not sure how hygienic it is ... It feels like nobody cares."

Nasser said he has already lost several loved ones since the latest war began and expects many more to die from starvation and dehydration soon if more aid doesn't come through.

"It's a very strange feeling," he said, adding he has been privileged enough to be able to buy at least one or two bottles of water each day.

A joint statement issued by various United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, said the trucks that entered Gaza on Saturday came in through the southern border with Egypt. The groups said the thousands of bottles of drinking water, food and medical supplies on board are "far from enough" for Palestinians, about one million of whom have fled their homes.

"With so much civilian infrastructure in Gaza damaged or destroyed in nearly two weeks of constant bombings, including shelters, health facilities, water, sanitation, and electrical systems, time is running out before mortality rates could skyrocket due to disease outbreaks and lack of health-care capacity," their statement said.

"Water production capacity is at five per cent of normal levels. Pre-positioned humanitarian supplies have already been depleted. Vulnerable people are at greatest risk and children are dying at an alarming rate and being denied their right to protection, food, water and health care."

The humanitarian corridor opened after more than a week of high-level diplomacy, including visits to the region by U.S. President Joe Biden and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Israel had insisted nothing would enter Gaza until Hamas, which Canada considers a terrorist organization, released all the captives from its Oct. 7 attack on towns in southern Israel.

Late Friday, Hamas freed its first captives -- an American woman and her teenage daughter. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the release and the aid deliveries. Israel says Hamas is still holding at least 210 hostages.

Reem Sultan, a 49-year-old resident of London, Ont., said her cousin in Gaza wept during a Saturday phone call as he described how "he just wants to feed his kids water." He, too, has watched fights break out among those seeking scarce food, she added.

Nights have been very cold too, and Sultan said her cousin reported venturing out barefoot and dodging bombs to grab blankets for his shivering daughter.

"I can't believe the choices that my family has to make in order just to survive, whether it's water, whether it's a little bit of food from home or whether it's just to keep them warm," she said.

"This should not be happening on our watch. This is insanity. This is beyond horrific."

Across the country in British Columbia, hundreds of Palestine supporters gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in the city's downtown.

Among them was Mohammed Zaqout, who said he has been living in a state of worry and uncertainty about whether his many relatives in Gaza are alive.

He said that, while he has been in contact with them, it is only on rare occasions.

"It's usually panic in family group chats just trying to figure out if they're still alive or not, realistically," Zaqout said over chants of "Free, free Palestine" as rally speeches began.

"We're trying to make sure that this isn't something that will just be a trend on social media and then disappear in a couple of weeks."

Authorities in Gaza say more than 4,300 people have been killed in the territory since the latest war began. More than 1,400 people have died in Israel, mostly civilians slain during Hamas' deadly incursion on Oct. 7.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2023. With files from The Associated Press and Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver.

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