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Palestinians killed in northern Gaza while waiting for aid

01 March 2024

Medical charity draws attention to plight of children

Alamy

Humanitarian aid is dropped over the southern Gaza Strip on Monday by Egyptian air forces

Humanitarian aid is dropped over the southern Gaza Strip on Monday by Egyptian air forces

AMID warnings of famine in northern Gaza, it was reported on Thursday that more than 100 Palestinians had been killed while waiting for aid to be delivered.

The Hamas-run health ministry reported that 104 people been killed and 760 wounded, early on Thursday morning. A spokesman blamed Israeli forces for what he described as a “massacre”. At Al Shifa hospital, a man cradling the body of a dead friend told the BBC that Israeli soldiers had opened fire “and the aid lorry ran over the bodies”.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said that residents had surrounded trucks and looted supplies. “As a result of the pushing, trampling and being run over by trucks, dozens of Gazans were killed and injured,” a statement said. An Israeli source cited by the BBC said that Israeli troops who were securing the aid lorries opened fire at the crowd after several people approached the troops “in a manner that posed a threat”.

Most of Gaza’s population has been displaced to the south, with 1.3 million people currently sheltering in Rafah. Little aid has been able to reach the north, and the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) — an initiative designed to measure food insecurity in countries — has been warning of a risk of famine since December (News, 5 January).

Last week, the UN humanitarian office OCHA issued a “white note” saying that at least 576,000 people were “facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation”. The Global Nutrition Cluster, which is staffed by UNICEF, reported on 18 February that about one in six children under the age of two was now experiencing wasting — the most life-threatening form of malnutrition.

The World Food Programme announced early last week that it had paused deliveries to the north, amid “unprecedented levels of desperation”. The previous day, a convoy had been surrounded by crowds of hungry people.

“First fending off multiple attempts by people trying to climb aboard our trucks, then facing gunfire once we entered Gaza City, our team was able to distribute a small quantity of the food along the way,” a statement said. “On Monday, the second convoy’s journey north faced complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order. Several trucks were looted between Khan Younes and Deir al Balah and a truck driver was beaten. The remaining flour was spontaneously distributed off the trucks in Gaza city, amidst high tension and explosive anger.”

A new acronym — WCNSF — is being used by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Gaza, the charity’s secretary general, Christopher Lockyear, told the UN Security Council last week. It stands for “wounded child, no surviving family”.

Since 7 October, almost 30,000 Gazans have been killed, the majority of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health authority. In January, the five-year-old daughter of an MSF staff member was killed in a strike on an MSF shelter in Rafah.

In his remarks to the Council, Mr Lockyear described Israeli strikes on health-care facilities as “either intentional or indicative of reckless incompetence”. He asked: “How can we deliver life-saving aid in an environment where the distinction between civilians and combatants is disregarded?”

The humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate. It reported this month that at least 90 per cent of children aged under five were affected by one or more infectious diseases, and that 70 per cent had had diarrhoea in the past two weeks.

“The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths, which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza,” the deputy executive director of humanitarian action and supply operations for UNICEF, Ted Chaiban, said last week.

The UN agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, reports that about 500 trucks of aid are required every day in Gaza. On Monday, it reported that, on average, almost 98 entered Gaza this month. The Israeli representative at a meeting on Thursday of last week, Brett Jonathan Miller, denied that Israel was holding up the trucks waiting at the borders, pointing instead to the UN as responsible for delays. UNWRA has referred to insecurity owing to military operations, the collapse of civil order, and the regular closing of crossing points as factors slowing the delivery of aid.

There remain 134 hostages held in Gaza, seized in the 7 October attacks by Hamas. The United States, Egypt, and Qatar are attempting to secure a deal under which hostages would be released in exchange for a cessation in fighting. President Biden indicated this week that he was optimistic that something would be in place by Monday.

The deal would entail the release of 40 hostages, in exchange for 400 Palestinian fighters and a 40-day ceasefire. Five hundred aid trucks would enter the Gaza Strip daily, and hospitals and bakeries there would be repaired, a source told The Times.

Both sides have cast doubt on an agreement, however. A Hamas official told the BBC that it was “not logical, after all this loss of life and property, to accept any offer that does not lead to a complete ceasefire, the return of the displaced, and the reconstruction of Gaza”. And the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, maintained that an assault on Rafah, the southern city where more than 1.3 Gazans are sheltering, will go ahead.

On Tuesday, the Synod of the Anglican Bishops of Southern Africa issued a statement that referred to “similarities between what is transpiring in Palestine at present and what took place in South Africa under apartheid. . . Challenged by Palestinians over the world Churches’ relative silence in the face of the slaughter of the people of Gaza, we declare: ‘Not in our name!’ . . . We call for the release of all hostages in Gaza and Israel and for immediate and effective measures to facilitate humanitarian aid to all the people of Gaza, including allowing full access to basic necessities.”

It condemned “the financial and military assistance being given to all warring parties in the region”.

The Office of Government Relations of the Episcopal Church in the United States is encouraging Episcopalians to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, was a signatory to a letter that made the plea to President Biden in November (News, 17 November 2023). The Church is also one of the signatories to a letter calling on the US President to restore funding to the UNWRA (News, 29 January).

Last week, the Episcopal News Service reported that the Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering would send $187,000 (£147,0000) to the diocese of Jerusalem. The Church’s relief and development arm has also announced additional support to help to expand mental-health services at Al-Ahli, the Anglican hospital in Gaza, as well as at two diocesan healthcare facilities in the West Bank: St Luke’s Hospital, Nablus, and the Penmen Clinic, Jenin.

On Monday, it was confirmed that a 25-year-old US airman, Aaron Bushnell, had died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, having said that he would “no longer be complicit in genocide”.

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