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UN report says 'famine is imminent' in northern Gaza

The alarming report came as Israel faces mounting pressure from even its closest allies to streamline the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip.
UN report says 'famine is imminent' in northern Gaza
Posted at 8:16 AM, Mar 18, 2024

The U.N. food agency said Monday that “famine is imminent” in northern Gaza, where 70% of the remaining population is experiencing catastrophic hunger, and that a further escalation of the war could push around half of Gaza's total population to the brink of starvation.

The alarming report came as Israel faces mounting pressure from even its closest allies to streamline the entry of aid into the Gaza Strip and open more crossings. The European Union's top diplomat said the impending famine was “entirely man-made” as "starvation is used as a weapon of war.”

Israeli forces meanwhile launched another raid on the Gaza Strip's largest hospital early Monday, saying Hamas militants had regrouped there and had fired on them from inside the compound, where Palestinian officials say tens of thousands of people have been sheltering.

The army last raided Shifa Hospital in November after claiming that Hamas maintained an elaborate command center within and beneath the facility. The military revealed a tunnel leading to some underground rooms, as well as weapons it said were found inside the hospital. But the evidence fell short of the earlier claims, and critics accused the army of recklessly endangering the lives of civilians.

SEE MORE: Netanyahu deems Schumer's call for new Israeli elections inappropriate

Rafah offensive could push half of Gaza to starvation

The World Food Program on Monday released the latest findings of its Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, an international process for estimating the scale of hunger crises.

It says virtually everyone in Gaza is struggling to get enough food, and that around 677,000 people — nearly a third of the population — are experiencing the highest level of catastrophic hunger. That includes around 210,000 people in the north.

It warned that if Israel broadens its offensive to the packed southern city of Rafah, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly promised, the fighting could drive around half of Gaza’s total population of 2.3 million into catastrophic hunger.

“This is the largest number of people facing imminent famine in the world today, and it has only taken five months to occur,” said Matthew Hollingworth, the acting World Food Program country director for the Palestinian territories.

“It’s still possible to turn this around but there has to be a cease-fire and there has to be massive amounts of food aid to flow consistently, and people need to have access to clean water and health care,” he said.

SEE MORE: At least 20 Palestinians killed at aid distribution site in Gaza

Northern Gaza, including Gaza City, was the first target of the invasion and suffered widespread destruction. It is now the epicenter of Gaza’s humanitarian catastrophe, with many residents reduced to eating animal feed. At least 20 people, mostly children, have died from malnutrition and dehydration in the north, the Health Ministry said earlier this month.

Airdrops by the U.S. and other nations continue, while deliveries on a new sea route have begun, but aid groups say it’s essential that Israel open up more ground routes and ease restrictions to meet the mounting humanitarian needs. The WFP report said airdrops account for a “negligible share” of aid compared with what is brought in on trucks.

Israeli authorities say they place no limits on the entry of aid and accuse U.N. bodies of failing to distribute it in a timely manner. Aid groups say distribution is impossible in much of Gaza because of ongoing hostilities, the difficulty of coordinating with the military and the breakdown of law and order.

Ahead of the report's release, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was up to Israel to facilitate more aid by streamlining procedures.

“Israel has to do it. It is not a question of logistics. It is not because the United Nations has not provided enough support,” he said. “Trucks are stopped. People are dying, while the land crossings are artificially closed.”

SEE MORE: Israel to relocate 1.4M Palestinians from Rafah ahead of attacks

'We're trapped inside'

The heavy fighting around Shifa Hospital, in the heart of Gaza City, meanwhile pointed to the continuing presence of Palestinians militants in northern Gaza despite the harsh conditions there.

People sheltering in the hospital said Israeli forces backed by tanks and artillery had surrounded the medical complex and that snipers were shooting at people inside. They said the army raided a number of buildings and detained dozens of people.

“We’re trapped inside,” said Abdel-Hady Sayed, who has been sheltering in the medical facility for over three months. “They fire at anything moving. … Doctors and ambulances can’t move.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry said the Israeli army was directing gun and missile fire at a building used for specialized surgeries. It said a fire broke out at the hospital’s gate.

The ministry said around 30,000 people are sheltering at the hospital, including patients, medical staff and people who have fled their homes seeking safety. The war has driven around 80% of Gaza's population from their homes.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief Israeli military spokesperson, said the army launched a “high-precision operation” in parts of the medical complex. He said senior Hamas militants had regrouped there and were directing attacks from inside.

The army released a grainy aerial video of what it said were militants firing on its forces from inside the hospital, as well as video of a rocket-propelled grenade striking an armored vehicle. It said its forces had detained around 80 people.

Hagari said the patients and medical staff could remain in the medical complex and that a safe passage was available for civilians who wanted to leave.

Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian facilities to shield its fighters, and the Israeli military has raided several hospitals since the start of the war, which was triggered by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Monday that at least 31,726 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including 81 in the past 24 hours. The ministry doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.

Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people in the surprise attack out of Gaza that triggered the war, and took another 250 people hostage. Hamas is still believed to be holding about 100 captives, as well as the remains of 30 others, after most of the rest were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The United States, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker another cease-fire and hostage release, but the gulf between the two sides remains wide, with Hamas demanding guarantees for an end to the war and Israel vowing to continue the offensive until it destroys the militant group.


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