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News / Nation & World

Why isn’t aid reaching Palestinians?

U.N. report in December finds quarter of Gaza’s 2.3M people starving

By Associated Press
Published: February 21, 2024, 4:43pm

From the earliest days of the Israel-Hamas war, the United States and much of the international community have pressed Israel to allow more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. But as the fighting rages on with no end in sight, the humanitarian catastrophe there has only worsened.

United Nations agencies and aid groups say the ongoing hostilities, the Israeli military’s refusal to facilitate deliveries and the breakdown of order inside Gaza make it increasingly difficult to bring vital aid to much of the coastal enclave.

The World Food Program said Tuesday it has paused food deliveries to isolated northern Gaza, where the U.N. children’s agency says one in six children are acutely malnourished. A U.N. report in December found that a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are starving.

“You find that there are people who have missed meals for a day or two days or three days — they have severe hunger,” Matthew Hollingworth, country director for World Food Program, said Wednesday. “But you also have people who have acute hunger, that is, they are not eating for a week.”

Hollingworth described the halt as a “temporary pause” and said the World Food Program was talking to “all the parties” to resume aid shipments. “We have to flood the area with assistance, if we’re going to mitigate and stop a famine,” he said.

Footage from Gaza in recent weeks has shown scenes of chaotic desperation with hundreds of people surrounding trucks and emptying them. Some Palestinians say they have resorted to making bread out of animal fodder. New mothers say baby formula is hard to come by or unaffordable.

Israel denies it is restricting the entry of aid and has shifted the blame to humanitarian organizations operating inside Gaza, saying hundreds of trucks filled with aid sit idle on the Palestinian side of the main crossing. The U.N. says it can’t always reach the trucks at the crossing because it is at times too dangerous.

The U.N. has called on Israel to open more crossings, including in the north, and to improve the coordination process.

WHY DOES GAZA DEPEND ON AID?

Gaza has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. Israel said the blockade was needed to keep the militant group from importing arms, while critics decried it as a form of collective punishment.

Even before the war, Gaza’s unemployment rate hovered around 50 percent — among the highest in the world — and years of isolation along with four previous wars devastated the private sector. Still, around 500 trucks entered each day, carrying commercial goods, fuel and aid.

Israel imposed a complete siege after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and said nothing would enter until it released the estimated 250 hostages taken that day. Seeking to put pressure on Hamas, it claimed the group was hoarding food and supplies and could care for the general population if it truly wanted.

Israel later relented under U.S. pressure and began allowing dozens of trucks to enter each day from the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza. But aid groups said they faced a cumbersome inspection process that allowed only a trickle of aid to enter even as needs mounted, with some 80 percent of Palestinians displaced from their homes. Israel says the inspections are needed for security reasons.

In December, following more U.S. pressure, Israel reopened its own Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza, the territory’s main cargo terminal, and streamlined the inspection process. But even then, the average number of trucks entering a day was only a third of the prewar level.

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