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Half-million Gazans face ‘catastrophic’ hunger levels, U.N.-backed report says

Half-million Gazans face ‘catastrophic’ hunger levels, U.N.-backed report says

World News

The threat of famine in the Gaza Strip has been revived after Israel’s military operation in the southern city of Rafah disrupted aid deliveries, leaving more than 500,000 Palestinians on the brink of starvation, a U.N.-backed group of experts said Tuesday.

Palestinians throughout the Strip face a “plausible” risk of famine in the coming months, according to the latest Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis. “A high risk of Famine persists as long as conflict continues, and humanitarian access is restricted,” it said.

The report described how more than half of households have exchanged clothing for food. A third have resorted to picking up trash items to sell. More than 20 percent of people surveyed have gone entire days and nights without eating.

Most Gazans were already reliant on international aid before the conflict began, as a years-long Israeli and Egyptian blockade took a heavy toll on the enclave’s economy. After eight months of war, and with the flow of aid often subject to Israeli restrictions or security concerns, almost half a million Gazans are facing “catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity,” the IPC said.

An earlier report had predicted that famine would take hold across Gaza’s northern regions by May. The IPC said Tuesday that a significant increase in aid deliveries throughout March and April temporarily alleviated conditions. But the situation has since deteriorated again, after the main crossing for aid deliveries during this conflict was closed during Israel’s offensive against the remaining Hamas units in Rafah.

“The fact that the entire population of Gaza is at emergency levels of hunger with over 500,000 people on the brink of starvation is no surprise. The Rafah offensive ground the aid response to a halt, thwarting the ability of humanitarian organizations to mitigate the suffering of 2.15 million people,” said Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps.

The United Nations has told Israel that it may not be able to continue in its role as principal provider of aid inside Gaza if the security situation there does not improve for humanitarian workers.

The warning came in a June 17 letter from Muhannad Hadi, the resident U.N. official coordinating Gaza aid, to COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for occupied territories. In a follow-up meeting last week, Sigrid Kaag, senior U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Gaza, delivered the same message to Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz, according to Israeli media reports.


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“Humanitarian operations have repeatedly been in the crosshairs in Gaza,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, told reporters Tuesday. “Humanitarian workers have been killed [and] shot at,” including in areas previously “deconflicted” with the Israeli military.

“The risks, frankly, are becoming increasingly intolerable,” Dujarric added.

More than 200 humanitarian workers, 193 of them employees of UNRWA, the principal U.N. aid agency in Gaza, have been killed since the war broke out.

There are continuing impediments to aid delivery due to ongoing combat, destroyed roads, and a dearth of vehicles and fuel. But U.S. and U.N. officials have also blamed part of the slowdown on an explosion of lawlessness by desperate civilians and criminal gangs that have attacked and looted aid distribution vehicles.

Israel has repeatedly stressed that it is allowing hundreds of trucks to enter southern Gaza daily. But aid workers say the security situation has impeded their efforts to actually distribute the aid.

“The way forward is not a mystery,” Dujarric said. “It’s on the table. It’s a humanitarian cease-fire. … It’s the immediate and unconditional release of all the hostages.”

Video shows Palestinians running and screaming after a strike hit Asma school, a school-turned-shelter, at Al-Shati camp in Gaza, on June 25. (Video: Reuters)

At least 37 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes Tuesday, according to the enclave’s civil defense force. It said children were among the casualties, including at a house belonging to relatives of Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, who lives in Qatar.

His sister and several other relatives were among the dead, according to Mahmoud Bassal, the civil defense spokesman. The Israel Defense Forces said the building had been used by “Hamas terrorists.”

The IDF did not respond to a Washington Post request for further details. Under international law, the relatives of combatants remain classified as civilians unless they take an active part in hostilities.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government says its military operation is aimed at defeating Hamas, it has struggled to articulate a clear plan for what might replace the militant group, which has ruled the enclave since 2007.

“Hamas cannot be replaced because it’s an idea, and therefore an alternative idea is needed,” Israel’s National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi said Tuesday, echoing similar recent comments from the IDF’s top brass.

“Most countries in the world want to see a moderate and pragmatic alternative to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The governing factors need to be local Palestinian leadership with the backing of Arab countries and other countries,” he said.

But how to achieve that remains unclear. Netanyahu has already said that the other major Palestinian faction that governs in areas occupied by Israel, the Palestinian Authority, should have no postwar role in Gaza. The idea had been floated by Israel’s international allies, including the United States, although the authority is widely reviled by Palestinians, who say it is corrupt, unrepresentative and co-opted by Israel.

Hanegbi also said Israel would prefer to reach an agreement with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah “through diplomatic means” and that the status quo at the border must change because of the Oct. 7 attack. White House envoy Amos Hochstein, who has mediated negotiations between Israel and Hezbollah, is “optimistic,” Hanegbi said, speaking at a conference. “He believes that the change is going to come soon after the end of the intense operation in Gaza.”

Following a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Hezbollah’s provocations “threaten to drag the Israeli and Lebanese people into a war that they do not want,” adding that such an engagement “could easily become a regional war.”

“So diplomacy is by far the best way to prevent more escalation,” Austin continued, according to a statement provided to journalists. “So we’re urgently seeking a diplomatic agreement” that would allow both Israeli and Lebanese citizens to return to areas affected by the spillover of the war, he said.

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Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said Monday that video footage of a Palestinian man strapped to a jeep by Israeli troops in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin was “shocking” and that “humans should never be used as human shields.” Miller called on the IDF to “hold people accountable.” The Israeli military said the man had been wounded and apprehended after its troops had been fired at, Reuters reported. But it said soldiers had then violated military protocol and that the incident would be investigated.

Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department, telling him “we must resolve the differences between us quickly and stand together.” Gallant’s meetings with U.S. officials come as fears grow that border clashes between Israel and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah could escalate into all-out war.

U.N. chief Guterres denounced the spread of misinformation worldwide — including about him. Speaking at a news conference, Guterres said he has heard “the same source many times” saying he has “never condemned Hamas” and that he is “a supporter of Hamas.” Guterres said that he has condemned Hamas at least “102 times, 51 of them in formal speeches.”

At least 37,658 ​​people have been killed and 86,237 injured in Gaza since the war started, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. It does not distinguish between civilians and combatants but says the majority of the dead are women and children. Israel estimates that about 1,200 people were killed in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, including more than 300 soldiers, and it says 314 soldiers have been killed since the start of its military operations in Gaza.

Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.

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