Israel-Hamas war: 'Famine imminent' in northern Gaza, UN agency says

UN Agency Warns of Looming Famine in Northern Gaza Amid Israel-Hamas Conflict

In the early hours of Monday, Israeli forces carried out a raid on the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip. They claimed that Hamas militants had taken refuge there and had launched attacks from within the premises. This hospital has become a sanctuary for tens of thousands of people seeking safety.

At the same time, the U.N. food agency has raised alarms about the dire situation in northern Gaza. They’ve warned that famine is on the horizon, with over 200,000 individuals facing extreme hunger. The ongoing conflict, now in its sixth month, threatens to push nearly half of Gaza’s population to the edge of starvation.

Back in November, the Israeli army targeted Shifa Hospital, alleging that Hamas had established a sophisticated command center within its walls. They discovered a tunnel and claimed to have found weapons inside the hospital. However, the evidence provided did not fully support their claims, leading to criticism that the military operation had unnecessarily endangered civilian lives.

Residents and people seeking refuge in the hospital reported that Israeli forces, supported by tanks and artillery, had encircled the medical facility. Snipers targeted individuals inside, making it impossible for doctors and ambulances to move freely. Abdel-Hady Sayed, who has been in the hospital for over three months, described the situation as a trap, with forces firing at anything that moves.

The Health Ministry of Gaza stated that the Israeli army targeted a building within the hospital complex used for specialized surgeries, and a fire erupted at the hospital’s entrance. Approximately 30,000 people, including patients, medical staff, and displaced individuals, are currently taking shelter in the hospital.

The chief Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, described the operation as highly precise, aimed at senior Hamas militants who were allegedly coordinating attacks from the hospital. The military released footage purportedly showing militants attacking from within the hospital and a rocket-propelled grenade hitting an armored vehicle. About 80 individuals were detained during the operation, according to the army.

Israel has accused Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian facilities as shields for their fighters. Several hospitals have been raided since the conflict began, following Hamas’ attack into southern Israel on October 7. The war has devastated Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure, with many facilities closing due to a lack of fuel and medical supplies, even as casualties mount daily.

The Health Ministry reported that the conflict has resulted in the deaths of at least 31,726 Palestinians, including 81 in the last 24 hours. The ministry’s figures do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but indicate that women and children constitute two-thirds of the fatalities.

The surprise attack by Palestinian militants from Gaza, which initiated the war, resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths and the capture of 250 hostages. Despite efforts by the United States, Qatar, and Egypt to broker another ceasefire, significant differences remain between the parties involved, with Hamas seeking guarantees for an end to the conflict and Israel determined to continue its offensive.

Israel’s military actions have displaced most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, with the U.N. reporting that a quarter of the population is facing starvation.

The humanitarian crisis is most acute in northern Gaza, where residents are struggling to survive, some resorting to eating animal feed. The Health Ministry has reported deaths from malnutrition and dehydration, primarily among children.

Efforts to deliver aid, including airdrops by the U.S. and other nations and the establishment of a new sea route, continue. However, aid organizations stress the importance of Israel opening more ground routes and easing restrictions to address the escalating humanitarian needs.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, speaking at an international aid conference, highlighted the dire situation and called for more efficient border crossings. He criticized the artificial closure of land crossings, which hampers the delivery of aid.

Israeli authorities maintain that they do not restrict the entry of aid, blaming U.N. bodies for delays in distribution. Aid groups counter that distribution challenges stem from ongoing hostilities and coordination difficulties with the military.

Oxfam has pointed out inefficiencies in the inspection system that delay the entry of aid, with trucks waiting for an average of 20 days. The organization has highlighted the rejection of essential supplies, including medical equipment, due to these delays, accusing Israeli authorities of obstructing the international aid effort.