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Food Deliveries Into Gaza are Halted   02/21 06:08

   

   RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The World Food Program said Tuesday it has paused 
deliveries of food to isolated northern Gaza because of increasing chaos across 
the territory, hiking fears of potential starvation. A study by the U.N. 
children's agency warned that one in six children in the north are acutely 
malnourished.

   Entry of aid trucks into the besieged territory has been more than halved in 
the past two weeks, according to U.N. figures. Overwhelmed U.N. and relief 
workers said intake of trucks and distribution have been crippled by Israeli 
failure to ensure convoys' safety amid its bombardment and ground offensive and 
by a breakdown in security, with hungry Palestinians frequently overwhelming 
trucks to take food.

   The weakening of the aid operation threatens to deepen misery across the 
territory, where Israel's air and ground offensive, launched in response to 
Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, has killed over 29,000 Palestinians, obliterated entire 
neighborhoods and displaced more than 80% of the population of 2.3 million.

   Heavy fighting and airstrikes have flared in the past two days in areas of 
northern Gaza that the Israeli military said had been largely cleared of Hamas 
weeks ago. The military on Tuesday ordered the evacuation of two neighborhoods 
on Gaza City's southern edge, an indication that militants are still putting up 
stiff resistance.

   The north, including Gaza City, has been isolated since Israeli troops first 
moved into it in late October. Large swaths of the city have been reduced to 
rubble, but several hundred thousand Palestinians remain largely cut off from 
aid.

   They describe famine-like conditions, in which families limit themselves to 
one meal a day and often resort to mixing animal and bird fodder with grains to 
bake bread.

   "The situation is beyond your imagination," said Soad Abu Hussein, a widow 
and mother of five children sheltering in a school in Jabaliya refugee camp.

   Ayman Abu Awad, who lives in Zaytoun, said he eats one meal a day to save 
whatever he can for his four children.

   "People have eaten whatever they find, including animal feed and rotten 
bread," he said.

   SLIDE INTO HUNGER

   The World Food Program said it was forced to pause aid to the north because 
of "complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order."

   It said it had first suspended deliveries to the north three weeks ago after 
a strike hit an aid truck. It tried resuming this week, but convoys on Sunday 
and Monday faced gunfire and crowds of hungry people stripping goods and 
beating one driver.

   WFP said it was working to resume deliveries as soon as possible. It called 
for the opening of crossing points for aid directly into northern Gaza from 
Israel and a better notification system to coordinate with the Israeli military.

   It warned of a "precipitous slide into hunger and disease," saying, "People 
are already dying from hunger-related causes."

   UNICEF official Ted Chaiban said in a statement that Gaza "is poised to 
witness an explosion in preventable child deaths, which would compound the 
already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza."

   The report released Monday by the Global Nutrition Cluster, an aid 
partnership led by UNICEF, found that in 95% of Gaza's households, adults were 
restricting their own food to ensure small children can eat, while 65% of 
families eat only one meal a day.

   More than 90% of children younger than 5 in Gaza eat two or fewer food 
groups a day, known as severe food poverty, the report said. A similar 
percentage are affected by infectious diseases, with 70% experiencing diarrhea 
in the last two weeks. More than 80% of homes lack clean and safe water.

   In Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where most humanitarian aid enters, 
the acute malnutrition rate is 5%, compared to 15% in northern Gaza. Before the 
war, the rate across Gaza was less than 1%, the report said.

   A U.N. report in December found that Gaza's entire population is in a food 
crisis, with one in four facing starvation.

   DROP IN AID TRUCKS

   Soon after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Israel blocked entry of all food, water, 
fuel, medicine and other supplies into Gaza. Under U.S. pressure, it began to 
allow a trickle of aid trucks to enter from Egypt at the Rafah crossing, and in 
December opened one crossing from Israel into southern Gaza, Kerem Shalom.

   The trucks have become virtually the sole source of food and other supplies 
for Gaza's population. But the average number entering per day has fallen since 
Feb. 9 to 60 a day from more than 140 daily in January, according to figures 
from the U.N. office for humanitarian coordination, known as OCHA.

   Even at its height, U.N. officials said the flow was not enough to sustain 
the population and was far below the 500 trucks a day entering before the war.

   The cause of the drop was not immediately clear. For weeks, right-wing 
Israeli protesters have held demonstrations to block trucks, saying Gaza's 
people should not be given aid. U.N. agencies have also complained that 
cumbersome Israeli procedures for searching trucks have slowed crossings.

   But chaos within Gaza appears to be a major cause.

   Moshe Tetro, an official with COGAT, an Israeli military body in charge of 
civilian Palestinian affairs, said the bottleneck was because the U.N. and 
other aid groups can't accept the trucks in Gaza or distribute them to the 
population. He said more than 450 trucks were waiting on the Palestinian side 
of Kerem Shalom crossing, but no U.N. staff had come to distribute them.

   Eri Kaneko, a spokesperson for OCHA, said the U.N. and other aid groups have 
not been able to regularly pick up supplies at the crossing points because of 
"the lack of security and breakdown of law and order." He said the Israeli 
military has a responsibility to facilitate distribution within Gaza, and "aid 
piling up at the crossing is evidence of an absence of this enabling 
environment."

   In a rare public criticism of Israel, a top U.S. envoy, David Satterfield, 
said this week that its targeted killings of Gaza police commanders guarding 
truck convoys have made it "virtually impossible" to distribute the goods 
safely.

   Besides crowds of Palestinians swarming convoys, aid workers say they are 
hampered by heavy fighting, strikes hitting trucks and Israeli failure to 
guarantee deliveries' safety. The U.N. says that from Jan. 1 to Feb. 12, Israel 
denied access to 51% of its planned aid deliveries to north Gaza.

   NO END IN SIGHT

   The war began when Hamas-led militants rampaged across communities in 
southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 
250 hostage. The militants still hold some 130 captives, around a fourth of 
whom are believed to be dead.

   Qatar's Foreign Ministry said it had confirmation that Hamas started 
delivering medications to the hostages, a month after the medications arrived 
in Gaza under a deal mediated by the Gulf state and France. The deal provides 
three months' worth of medication for chronic illnesses for 45 of the hostages, 
as well as other medicine and vitamins, in exchange for medicines and 
humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

   Israel has vowed to expand its offensive to Rafah, where more than half of 
the territory's population of 2.3 million has sought refuge from fighting 
elsewhere.

   Gaza's Health Ministry said Tuesday that the total Palestinian death toll 
since Oct. 7 had risen to 29,195. The ministry does not differentiate between 
fighters and civilians in its records, but says women and children make up 
two-thirds of those killed. Over 69,000 Palestinians have been wounded, 
according to the ministry.

   Israel says it has killed over 10,000 Palestinian militants but has provided 
no evidence for its count. The military blames the high civilian death toll on 
Hamas because the militant group fights in dense residential neighborhoods. The 
military says 237 of its soldiers have been killed since the start of the 
ground offensive in late October.

 
 
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