Famine is now probably present in Gaza, US says

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Famine is already probably present in at least some areas of northern Gaza, while other areas are in danger of falling into conditions of starvation, the US state department said on Friday a day after the world’s top court ordered Israel to admit food aid into the territory.

“While we can say with confidence that famine is a significant risk in the south and centre but not present, in the north, it is both a risk and quite possibly is present in at least some areas,” a state department official told Reuters.

The US comments add to a growing and powerful consensus that Israel’s military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory has triggered a famine.

The number of trucks distributing aid in south and central Gaza had nearly reached 200 a day, an increase on a month ago, but more were needed, the state department official said.

“You need to address the full nutrition needs of the population of Gaza of all ages. That means more than just that minimal survival level feeding,” the official said, adding that malnutrition, and infant and young-child mortality was a significant, growing problem.

“It has to be addressed by additional assistance coming and the right kind of assistance coming in,” he said.

The official added that a maritime aid corridor promised by the US president, Joe Biden, which includes the construction of a floating port, would be ready in mid to late April, making efforts to deliver substantial aid by sea a race against time unless there is a meaningful increase in deliveries by road via Israeli border crossings.

The comments from Washington come despite Israeli claims that it is allowing sufficient access of food and other aid into Gaza. Last week Unrwa – the main aid agency delivering aid to Palestinians – said that it had been prevented from delivering aid.

The US warning follows hard on the heels of a ruling by the international court of justice (ICJ) in The Hague, which also warned that famine was becoming a fact in parts of Gaza.

On Thursday a panel of judges at the UN’s top court, which is already considering a complaint from South Africa that Israel is committing genocide in the Palestinian territory, issued a unanimous ruling ordering Israel to admit humanitarian assistance.

“The court observes that Palestinians in Gaza are no longer facing only a risk of famine … but that famine is setting in,” the judges said.

That, in turn, followed a report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, the global authority on food security, assessing that famine was imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza, and could spread across the entire enclave by July.

On Friday the head of Unrwa, Philippe Lazzarini, tweeted that the ICJ’s ruling was “a stark reminder that the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is man made and worsening”.

Israel has faced accusations, including from the UN’s top rights official, Volker Türk, that it is potentially committing “a war crime” by continuing to obstruct food aid to Gaza’s population of 2.3 million.

The latest comments come amid mounting frustration in the Biden administration with Israel, which is a recipient of substantial military, financial and diplomatic support from Washington.

In a statement marking Arab-American Heritage Month, Biden said: “We must pause to reflect on the pain being felt by so many in the Arab American community with the war in Gaza.

“The trauma, death and destruction in Israel and Gaza have claimed, and continue to claim, far too many innocent lives – including family and friends of Arab Americans across our nation.”

Biden, who is facing significant disillusionment among US voters over the war in an election year, said that his administration was “working with partners across the region to respond to the urgent humanitarian crisis, deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza, free the hostages taken during the brutal Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October, and establish an immediate ceasefire that would last at least six weeks, which we would work to build into something more enduring”.

The latest famine warnings came as the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, approved new talks on a Gaza ceasefire, and heavy fighting continued in the strip including at several hospitals.

Netanyahu’s office said new talks on a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release would take place in Doha and Cairo “in the coming days … with guidelines for moving forward in the negotiations”, days after they appeared stalled.

On Monday the UN security council demanded an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, the release of hostages held by militants, and “ensuring humanitarian access”.

Member states are obliged to abide by such resolutions, but the Doctors Without Borders charity said nothing has changed on the ground.

Aid groups say only a fraction of the supplies required have been allowed in since October, when Israel placed Gaza under near-total siege.

Israel has tried to blame shortages on the Palestinian side, namely a lack of capacity to distribute aid, while humanitarian groups say that Israel is not allowing enough trucks in to make deliveries.

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