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Aid efforts intensify for famine-stalked Gaza

By AFP - Mar 14,2024 - Last updated at Mar 14,2024

A displaced Palestinian boy selling detergent in small packages looks for customers at a makeshift camp beside a street in Rafah on Thursday (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Efforts grew on Thursday to get more aid into the war-devastated Gaza Strip, where the UN warns of famine and desperate residents have stormed relief shipments.

After mediators failed to reach a truce between Israel and Hamas militants for the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, which started on Monday, fighting continued with at least 69 deaths over the previous 24 hours, the Hamas-run territory's health ministry said.

Hamas authorities reported more than 40 air strikes across Gaza, from Beit Hanun in the north to Rafah in the south, where most of Gaza's population has sought refuge and Israel is threatening a ground invasion.

Among the latest casualties, according to the health ministry, were seven people killed when Israeli troops opened fire on a group at an aid distribution point near Gaza City. The army had no immediate comment.

The charity vessel Open Arms, pulling about 200 tonnes of food aid, was nearing Israel’s coast after departing Cyprus on Tuesday, the Marine traffic website showed on Thursday.

Cyprus’s foreign minister said a second, bigger vessel was being readied in Larnaca Port for the maritime corridor which, senior United States administration officials have said, will later be complemented by a temporary pier off Gaza to be built by American troops.

Daily aid airdrops by multiple nations have been taking place this month, and Germany said it would join the effort.


‘No alternative’ 


But the air and sea missions are “no alternative” to land deliveries, 25 organisations including Amnesty International and Oxfam said in a statement.

“While a convoy of five trucks has the capacity to carry about 100 tonnes of lifesaving assistance, recent airdrops delivered only a few tonnes of aid each,” they said.

Agnes Callamard, Amnesty’s secretary-general, added that the international community seems to have accepted that the war will drag on.

“Why are you making an investment that is going to take two months?” she asked, referring to the Pentagon’s timeline for setting up the temporary pier which, it said, could enable the provision of more than two million meals a day.

The war began on October 7 when Hamas fighters attacked Israel, according to an AFP count based on official figures.

The fighters also seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 are dead.

Activists and families of Israeli hostages on Thursday kept up pressure for their release, again blocking a Tel Aviv highway in protest.

Vowing to destroy Hamas after the October 7 surprise attack, Israel has carried out a relentless campaign of bombardment and ground operations in Gaza, killing at least 31,341 people, most of them civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The United Nations has reported difficulty in accessing Gaza’s north with aid.


Food warehouse hit 


On Tuesday the Israeli military said the UN’s World Food Programme had sent an initial six aid trucks directly into northern Gaza as part of a pilot project.

While efforts continue to get more assistance to the territory’s 2.4 million people, the main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said on Wednesday that an Israeli strike hit one of its food distribution warehouses in Rafah, killing an employee and wounding 22.

The agency’s chief, Philippe Lazzarini, said the attack “comes as food supplies are running out, hunger is widespread and, in some areas, turning into famine”.

Israel said later a Hamas fighters was killed in a strike on Rafah and identified him as Muhammad Abu Hasna. Gaza’s health ministry said he was one of four people killed in the strike.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general, told reporters that “the Israeli army received the coordinates... of this facility”.

It is the latest point of tension between Israel and UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, since Israel accused several UNRWA employees — out of around 30,000 it employs in the Middle East — of Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos hosted a virtual meeting on Wednesday with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other foreign officials to discuss the maritime corridor.

“The ministers agreed that there is no meaningful substitute to land routes via Egypt and Jordan and entry points from Israel into Gaza for aid delivery at scale,” they said in a joint statement.

They also called on Israel to open Ashdod port, north of Gaza, to complement the Mediterranean corridor.

Senior officials would gather in Cyprus on Monday for “in-depth” briefings on the sea route, and would also discuss a possible “common fund” to support it, the statement said.


‘Humanitarian island’


The Spanish charity vessel Open Arms left Cyprus for Gaza on Tuesday. It is towing a barge with 200 tonnes of aid, marking the first voyage along the sea corridor.

Open Arms is a partner of the American charity World Central Kitchen founded by Jose Andres. He wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that a jetty to receive the aid had reached nearly 60 metres in length.

His post included images of a bulldozer working on a promontory whose location was not given.

Israel’s army said the Open Arms vessel “underwent a comprehensive security check and was accompanied by Israeli officials to ensure that humanitarian aid alone reaches the Gaza Strip”.

By the shore in northern Gaza men including Eid Ayub waited.

Whether by sea or air, the aid was not enough, Ayub said. “When this aid arrives, there’s no entity to distribute it,” he said, adding that merchants were taking advantage of shortages.

Around 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt in Rafah, where Israel has threatened to send in troops against Hamas.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, late on Wednesday said “a significant amount” of those people, at least, would need to be moved “to a humanitarian island that we will create with the international community”.


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