Palestinians Starve As Hamas And Israel Battle For Control Of Gaza

Some aid groups have accused Israel of using hunger as a weapon in its war against Hamas.

A top Hamas police commander met in mid-March with the heads of a Gaza clan who’d been commandeering aid meant for hungry Palestinians. He told them to stop taking the shipments or they’d be killed. A week later, that commander was killed – by Israeli troops.

The Israelis weren’t acting at the clan’s request. Rather, all three – Hamas, clans and the Israeli military – are engaged in a bloody battle for control of north Gaza and aid distribution, making an already troubled process more dangerous and unreliable. Famine is a threat, and people are beginning to die of hunger, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The dead commander, Fayeq al-Mabhouh, had organized a safe route so that those who’d been desperately making bread from animal feed got wheat flour, according to a senior Hamas official and several others on the ground, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Israeli troops killed several others working with Mabhouh, Gazans say, and the safe route died with them.

Israeli military officials acknowledge killing Mabhouh and colleagues during their operation in Shifa Hospital, along with almost 200 other Hamas operatives, but say it had nothing to do with aid. “We are at war against Hamas, he was a top Hamas terrorist and therefore was killed,” said Major Nir Dinar, a spokesperson.

International aid groups are also central players in Gaza and in frequent conflict with Israel. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is essentially a Palestinian organization that Israel is trying to shut down on charges that it’s too cozy with Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union.

A number of governments have stopped funding UNRWA because of those charges, and UNRWA said last week that although it’s best positioned to get aid to those in need, Israel is stopping it from doing so, worsening hunger and suffering. While everywhere in the coastal strip is in need of food, the north is the most dire.

A recent UN-backed report said famine is imminent in northern Gaza where 70% of the population is on the brink of starvation. Some two dozen people, including babies, have died from starvation in the north, the Hamas-run health ministry says. This is why many, including the US, are seeking an immediate cease-fire. Israel says it must finish the destruction of Hamas and that the aid difficulty isn’t its fault.

Some aid groups have accused Israel of using hunger as a weapon in its war against Hamas, which began on Oct. 7 when Hamas operatives broke into Israel, killing, abusing and abducting hundreds. Israel’s retaliatory war has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to Hamas officials who don’t distinguish between civilians and fighters.

The International Rescue Committee said in a statement that “US-funded humanitarian assistance has been consistently and arbitrarily denied by the Israeli authorities.”

A spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in response to queries from Bloomberg, said, “Between March 1 and 15, every fifth humanitarian mission to the north was denied access. This is in addition to delays, impediments and multiple dangers, including live fire. The Israeli authorities have impeded the import of items critically needed to save lives in Gaza, including generators to power medical operations.

Shimon Freedman, a spokesperson for the Israeli military’s civilian affairs department, denied the accusations, saying Israel has been facilitating aid into northern Gaza but international aid groups haven’t increased the number of trucks, workers or working hours as needed.

He added, “It is absolutely not true that we stop generators from going in. Some have been delivered by our soldiers to hospitals. We prioritize water, food and shelter equipment.”

His department issued a rebuttal to the UN-backed report on starvation, saying it “contains multiple factual and methodological flaws, some of them serious.” The rebuttal adds, “We outright reject any allegations according to which Israel is purposefully starving the civilian population in Gaza.”

In recent days, Gazans in the southern city of Rafah say some prices have dropped dramatically. Frozen chicken, which used to cost 80 shekels ($22) per kilo has fallen to 20 shekels.

Khaled al-Hams, who runs a charity in Gaza, said one of the biggest problems is that farmland is located next to the border with Israel which has been off-limits since the war.

“The lands are inaccessible, the sea is closed to fishermen and Gaza relies on food that is coming in the form of aid shipments which are slow,” he said, adding that Hamas “has not managed the crisis efficiently.”

Shira Efron, a policy adviser at Israel Policy Forum, a liberal US-based group, and former consultant to Israel’s Defense Ministry, said the battle over aid is a proxy for a battle over control. “If you have aid, you have power,” she said, “so there are unintended consequences from the fight to control it.”

She said foreign groups and the UN are right that Israeli inspections of aid trucks are a major bottleneck. “Israel closes the crossings at 4 every day and for Shabbat and holidays,” she said. She added that Israel’s complaints about a lack of trucks and drivers from aid groups are also valid.

Israel says its job is to “facilitate” the aid, not to provide and distribute it – that’s the role of aid organizations. But Efron said international humanitarian law requires the occupying army to get the aid to the people.

“The overall responsibility for aid coming in is on Israel,” she said.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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