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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After UN official says there is famine in northern Gaza, Israel pushes back

A Jordanian Air Force C-130 drops humanitarian aid supplies over northern Gaza on Thursday, March 28, 2024. (Diego Ibarra Sánchez/The New York Times).

By Liam Stack

After one of the strongest indications yet from a United Nations agency that parts of the Gaza Strip are experiencing famine, the Israeli agency that oversees the Palestinian territories pushed back, saying it had “increased its humanitarian effort to flood the Gaza Strip with food, medical equipment and equipment for tents.”

In an interview with NBC’s “Meet The Press,” which released a portion of it late Friday, Cindy McCain, director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, said there was a “full-blown famine” in northern Gaza. She said her assessment was “based on what we have seen and what we have experienced on the ground.”

“It is horror,” said McCain, the widow of Sen. John McCain. “I am so hoping we can get a cease-fire and begin to feed these people, especially in the north, in a much faster fashion.”

In response Sunday, the Israeli agency, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, said in a statement that 350 aid trucks, mostly carrying food, were entering the Gaza Strip each day. About 100 of those trucks were reaching northern Gaza, the most isolated and hard-hit area of the territory. It also said April saw a “great surge” in new aid, with more than 6,000 relief trucks entering Gaza, a 28% increase from the previous month.

COGAT also listed several projects to improve conditions in Gaza, including opening the Israeli port of Ashdod for humanitarian aid shipments.

But aid groups say the amount of shipments arriving is far below what is needed in Gaza, where authorities say the war with Israel has killed more than 34,000 people, left roughly 2 million more homeless and destroyed the territory’s infrastructure and economy.

McCain, who became head of the World Food Program last year after a stint as an ambassador appointed by President Joe Biden, is the second U.S. official to say there is famine in Gaza. The first was Samantha Power, director of the U.S. Agency for International Development, who made her remarks in congressional testimony last month.

But McCain’s remarks do not constitute an official declaration, which is a complex bureaucratic process that involves both a U.N. agency, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, and the government of the country where the famine is taking place.

It is unclear what local authority might have the power to do that in Gaza. Israel’s goal in Gaza is overthrowing its Hamas-backed government, which was not widely recognized before the war and has lost control of most of the enclave since the fighting began.

Last month, Arif Husain, chief economist for the World Food Program, said the increased levels of aid reaching Gaza in recent weeks were a good start but that they were not enough to address the risk of famine.

He said the arrival of increased amounts of aid “cannot just happen for a day or a week — it has to happen every single day for the foreseeable future.”

“If we can do this, then we can ease the pain, we can avert famine,” he said.

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