Food aid convoy for northern Gaza looted after delay at Israeli checkpoint

In World


A new drive by the United Nation’s World Food Programme to deliver aid to an estimated half a million people at risk of famine in northern Gaza has failed amid further scenes of chaos and violence.

A 14-truck convoy destined for northern Gaza was looted on Tuesday after being held at an Israeli army checkpoint for several hours, aid workers said. As the convoy turned back after the delay, it was attacked and 200 tonnes of food looted by “a large crowd of desperate people”.

Insecurity, logistical bottlenecks, ongoing fighting and restrictions on movement imposed by Israel have combined to limit aid deliveries to a fraction of what is needed, aid officials said.

The WFP convoy was the first to try to reach northern Gaza since insecurity forced the agency to pause efforts on 20 February despite looming starvation, because Israeli forces had twice shot at desperate Palestinians trying to get food from WFP trucks, senior WFP officials told the Guardian earlier this week.

Hopes were raised last week that Hamas and Israel were close to agreeing a deal that would pause, or possibly definitively end, hostilities and so facilitate humanitarian assistance.

Prospects of an agreement have receded in recent days, though a Hamas delegation remains in Cairo for talks with mediators from Egypt and Qatar.

Eylon Levy, as Israeli government spokesperson, said on Wednesday that Israel still wanted to see a temporary pause for humanitarian purposes that would allow the release of about 130 hostages still held by Hamas.

“We will do everything we can to get them out … [But] this war will end ultimately with the total defeat of Hamas or its surrender,” Levy told reporters.

The war was triggered in October by bloody attacks into southern Israel launched by Hamas. The militant organisation, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, killed 1,200 Israelis, mainly civilians, and abducted another 250 in the surprise operation.

Health officials in Gaza said the number of people confirmed killed in Israel’s offensive had now passed 30,700, with 86 deaths reported in the past 24 hours. Most of the victims are women and children, the officials said.

Israel has accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields in Gaza and says its forces are acting entirely lawfully.

Shaban Abdel-Raouf, a Palestinian electrician and father of five from Gaza City, said: “Every day costs us dozens of martyrs. We want a ceasefire now,.”

He is now in the southern city of Khan Younis, where fighting is continuing. Residents reported hearing explosions all through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning. Israeli warplanes struck areas of Al-Nuseirat refugee camp and Deir al-Balah city in central Gaza, and part of the southern city of Rafah, witnesses said.

Jordanian and American planes have repeatedly airdropped food in recent days but humanitarian organisation say only delivery by road will allow sufficient quantities to reach the needy and without any distribution mechanism.

“Airdrops are a last resort and will not avert famine”, World Food Programme deputy directory Carl Skau said.

Gaza’s health ministry reported on Wednesday that a 15-year-old girl became the latest child to die from malnutrition or dehydration, at Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

The UN said in February that more than a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people were “estimated to be facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation”. It said without action widespread famine could be “almost inevitable”.

Aid can currently be delivered into southern Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel.

The UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA has said that during February an average of nearly 97 trucks were able to enter Gaza each day, compared with about 150 trucks a day in January – well below a target of 500 trucks a day.

The UN has described aid access as “unpredictable and insufficient”, blaming military operations, insecurity and extensive restrictions to delivery of essential supplies.

Even when aid enters Gaza, all cargos have to be unloaded from Egyptian trucks and onto local transport. There is now an acute shortage of both suitable vehicles and fuel in Gaza, which is causing further problems. Other challenges include patchy communications, limited electricity, crowds of refugees and roads strewn with rubble.

Israel has said there is no limit on the aid for civilians and has blamed the UN for any delivery issues, saying limitations on the quantity and pace of aid are dependent on the capacity of the UN and other agencies.

Aid officials say the insecurity has been caused by a lack of police, who have stopped guarding convoys after being targeted by Israeli forces.

Israel say the police are part of Hamas and on Wednesday called on international aid organisations to find ways to distribute aid that does not make them “complicit with terrorists”.

On Friday, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) delivered vaccines formula milk and other supplies to Shifa, and managed to reach other hospitals in the north of Gaza two days later.

Tess Ingram, a spokesperson for Unicef, told the Guardian that her colleagues had described desperation for food at the hospitals they visited and doctors described their complete inability to treat dying children.

“It defies all logic that children are dying because of access restrictions, We’ve got the food they need, the treatments for malnutrition required to save lives just a few miles away yet we cannot get it to them. This is a test of the world’s conscience,” Ingram said.

Washington has stepped up pressure on Israel to alleviate the suffering, a message echoed by the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron.

“People are dying of hunger. People are dying of otherwise preventable disease,” Cameron told the House of Lords ahead of talks with Benny Gantz, an opposition politician who joined Israeli war cabinet shortly after the outbreak of the war.

In Beirut, Osama Hamdan, a Hamas official, said any exchange of prisoners could only take place after a ceasefire.

Basem Naim, a second senior Hamas official, said Hamas had presented its own draft deal and was awaiting a response from Israel, and that “the ball now is in the Americans’ court”.

A deal is being sought before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sunday. Violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories often rises during Ramadan, as does hostility towards Israel in the Arab and Muslim world.


Read More: Food aid convoy for northern Gaza looted after delay at Israeli checkpoint

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