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UN says 'famine is imminent' in northern Gaza as Israel launches another raid on the main hospital

Israel Palestinians
Posted at 8:30 AM, Mar 18, 2024

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — 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 military said it killed a Hamas commander who was armed and hiding inside the medical center, and that one of its own soldiers was killed in the operation.

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.

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 of 2.3 million — 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 vowed, the fighting could drive over a million people — half of Gaza's population — 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.

Northern Gaza, including Gaza City, was the first target of the invasion and entire neighborhoods have been obliterated. 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 land routes and ease restrictions. 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.

Alex de Waal, the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University and an expert on global famines, said Israel has had “ample warning" that if it continued to launch massive operations that destroy key infrastructure, displace large numbers of people and obstruct aid operations, the results would be catastrophic.

"In failing to change course, it is culpable for these deaths,” he said.

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

“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.”

‘WE’RE TRAPPED INSIDE'
The heavy fighting around Shifa Hospital, in the heart of Gaza City, meanwhile pointed to the continuing presence of Palestinian 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 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 displaced around 80% of Gaza's population.

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 later said it had killed Faiq Mabhouh, identifying him as a senior member of Hamas' internal security apparatus. It said Mabhouh was armed and hiding inside the compound, and that “numerous” weapons were found in an adjacent room. The military said its forces 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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Magdy reported from Cairo and Goldenberg from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed.

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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