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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Food experts predict ‘imminent’ famine in northern Gaza



A global authority on food security said that in the coming months, as many as 1.1 million people in Gaza could face the most severe levels of hunger.

By Gaya Gupta, Shashank Bengali and Thomas Fuller


The acute food shortage in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip has become so severe that “famine is imminent” and the enclave is on the verge of a “major acceleration of deaths and malnutrition,” a report from a global authority on food security and nutrition said earlier this week.


The group, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative, which was set up in 2004 by U.N. agencies and international relief groups, has sounded the alarm about famine only twice before: in Somalia in 2011 and in South Sudan in 2017.


The warning came as Israeli forces again raided Shifa Hospital in the northern part of the enclave Monday, in an operation that they said had been aimed at senior Hamas officials who had regrouped on the premises, setting off an hourslong battle that both sides said had resulted in casualties.


The raid at Shifa, in Gaza City, raised questions about the level of control that Israeli forces have over northern Gaza. In December, the Israeli military said it was nearing “full operational control” there.


Taken together, the fighting and the severe food shortage underlined the chaos and desperation in Gaza after 23 weeks of war. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres renewed his call Monday for “an immediate humanitarian cease-fire” and said that the report on imminent famine was “an appalling indictment of conditions on the ground for civilians.”


As Israeli negotiators arrived in Qatar for a new round of talks on a cease-fire and the release of hostages held by Hamas and its allies, President Joe Biden had a phone conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday, according to Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser.


Biden relayed that he was “deeply concerned” about the prospect of Israel’s next phase in the war, an incursion into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, which is filled with families displaced from other parts of the territory, Sullivan said during a news briefing.


Netanyahu agreed to send a team of military and humanitarian officials to Washington to hear the administration’s concerns, according to Sullivan. Biden, who asked Netanyahu for the visit, also requested that the Israeli delegation offer an alternative proposal to target senior Hamas leaders without a major invasion.


The call occurred as the global initiative’s report stressed that as many as 1.1 million people in Gaza would most likely experience “catastrophic” shortages of food. The group said the continued fighting and aid organizations’ lack of access to northern Gaza, the first part of the territory that Israeli forces invaded in October after the attack by Hamas, had made conditions particularly acute there.


Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesperson, pushed back on the report, calling it an “out-of-date picture” that “does not take into account the latest developments on the ground,” including major humanitarian initiatives last week. He also said that Israel was taking “proactive measures” to expand aid delivery in northern Gaza.


In recent weeks, some foreign leaders have been increasingly blunt in blaming Israel for the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. At the opening of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, accused Israel of “provoking famine.”


Starvation is being used as “a weapon of war,” he said.


Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, rejected Borrell’s criticism, saying that the country allowed extensive aid in by air, land and sea.


Across the Gaza Strip, the severe shortages of food and other basic goods come amid Israeli’s bombardment and a near-total blockade. The central and southern parts of the territory also face a risk of famine by July if the worst-case scenarios come to pass, the Integrated Food Security group said.


In December, the group said that famine could occur within six months in Gaza unless the fighting stopped immediately and more humanitarian supplies made it into the territory. “Since then, the conditions necessary to prevent famine have not been met,” the report said.


The vast majority of the people in Gaza have been forced from their homes by the war, and many were once again on the move Monday after the Israeli military ordered civilians to leave the area near Shifa Hospital.


The military said it had launched the Monday raid on the hospital based on new intelligence that Hamas officials were operating from the facilities. It came four months after Israeli forces stormed the complex and found a tunnel shaft they said supported their contention that the armed group had used it to conceal military operations. Since then, Israel has withdrawn many troops from northern Gaza and has shifted the focus of its invasion to the south.


The military said its forces killed 20 militants during the operations Monday, including a senior Hamas official it identified as Faiq Mabhouh, the head of operations for the internal security forces of the Hamas government in Gaza. He was “armed and hiding in a compound” at the hospital, Israel said.


(Sullivan confirmed Monday that Israel had also killed Hamas’ deputy commander, Marwan Issa, this month.)


Israel has said that the hospital complex doubles as a Hamas military command center, calling it one of many examples of civilian facilities that militants use to shield their activities. U.S. spy agencies have said their own intelligence indicates that Hamas and another Palestinian group used Shifa to command forces and hold some hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attacks.


The hospital and the surrounding area also house about 30,000 patients, medical workers and displaced civilians, and a number of people were killed and wounded in the raid Monday, the Gaza Health Ministry said.


By midday, about 15 Israeli tanks and several bulldozers were on the hospital’s grounds, said Alaa Abu al-Kaas, who was staying at the hospital with her father, who was being treated.


“The fear and terror are really eating us alive,” she said in a phone call from a corridor of one of the hospital’s buildings where she was hiding. Her voice was barely audible amid loud booms and explosions.


Al-Kaas, 19, said that in the predawn hours Monday, she heard shots and the sound of tanks before Israeli soldiers, using loudspeakers, ordered people in the complex to stay inside and close the windows. She said Israeli forces told people that they would be moved to the area of Mawasi in southern Gaza, although it was not immediately clear when or how. Israel said it had sought to create a humanitarian “safe zone” in Mawasi, although civilians have found little shelter there.


Al-Kaas said she had also seen Israeli soldiers holding several people, their hands bound and clothes partly stripped off, in the courtyard of the hospital complex. She added that bodies of people who had apparently been shot were lying in the courtyard. Her account could not be independently confirmed.


“We are just sitting here,” she said, “waiting for them to evacuate us out of here.”

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