Ben Kentish 10pm - 1am
Aid to Gaza halted with communications down for second day
17 November 2023, 11:34
Agencies are warning that people may soon face starvation as food and water supplies dwindle.
Communications systems in the Gaza Strip are down for a second day, causing aid agencies to halt cross-border deliveries of humanitarian supplies amid warnings people could soon face starvation.
Israel has been pushing deeper into Gaza City, and its troops have been searching Gaza’s biggest hospital, Shifa, for traces of a Hamas command centre the military alleges is located under the building.
They have displayed images of what they claimed to be a tunnel entrance and weapons found in a truck inside the compound, but do not yet have any evidence of the command centre. Hamas and Shifa staff deny such a command centre exists.
The war, now in its sixth week, was triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack in southern Israel, in which the militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured some 240 men, women and children.
Abeer Etefa, a Middle East regional spokeswoman for the United Nations’ World Food Programme, said Gaza is now receiving only 10% of its needed food supplies daily, and dehydration and malnutrition are growing with nearly all of the 2.3 million people in the territory needing food.
“People are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” she said from Cairo.
With few trucks entering Gaza and no fuel to distribute the food, “there is no way to meet the current hunger needs”, she added.
“The existing food systems in Gaza are basically collapsing.”
The breakdown of the communications network, which is crucial for coordinating aid deliveries, means the situation has worsened. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said no aid deliveries would be able to enter southern Gaza from Egypt on Friday.
“We have seen fuel and food and water and humanitarian assistance being used as a weapon of war,” said agency spokeswoman Juliette Touma.
Fuel is needed for generators that run emergency communication systems, hospitals, desalination plants and other critical infrastructure in Gaza.
Israel has barred fuel shipments into Gaza since the beginning of the war, but permitted a limited shipment to UNRWA earlier this week for trucks delivering food after the agency’s fuel reservoir ran dry.
Ms Touma said that is “outrageous that humanitarian agencies are reduced to begging for fuel”.
Following the surprise attack by Hamas, Israel responded with a weeks-long air campaign and a ground invasion of northern Gaza, vowing to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
On Friday, the military said it had found the body of another hostage taken by Hamas, identifying her as a soldier, Cpl Noa Marciano. Like the body of another hostage found Thursday, 65-year-old Yehudit Weiss, Marciano’s remains were recovered in a building adjacent to Shifa, the military said.
Four hostages taken in the initial Hamas attack have now been confirmed dead, while four others have been freed and one rescued.
More than 11,470 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble.
The official count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas set up its main command centre in and under Shifa hospital, which has multiple buildings over an area of several city blocks. So far, it has mainly shown photos of weapons caches which it says its soldiers found in the hospital.
On Thursday, the military released video of a hole in the hospital courtyard it said was a tunnel entrance. It also showed several assault rifles and RPGs, grenades, ammunition clips and utility vests laid out on a blanket that it said were found in a pickup truck in the courtyard. The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
Most of Gaza’s population is crowded into southern Gaza, including hundreds of thousands who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate to the north to get out of the way of its ground offensive. Some 1.5 million people driven from their homes have packed into UN shelters or houses with other families.
If the assault moves into the south, it is not clear where refugees would go, as Egypt refuses to allow a mass transfer onto its soil.
The Israeli military has called on people to move to a “safe zone” in Mawasi, a town on the Mediterranean coast a few square miles in size, where humanitarian aid could be delivered.
The heads of 18 UN agencies and international charities have rejected the proposed safe zone, saying that concentrating civilians in one area while hostilities continue is too dangerous. They called for a ceasefire and the unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid and fuel for Gaza’s population.