Medics claim 5 killed by gunfire, stampede at aid delivery

‘Multiple factual flaws’: Israel contests UN-backed report on imminent famine in Gaza

COGAT says report relies on information from Hamas, grossly underestimates amount of water available; US official says famine ‘quite possibly’ in some areas of northern enclave

Illustrative: Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Illustrative: Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Israel on Friday contested a recent UN-backed report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza that said famine was imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza, and by July in other parts of the Strip.

The report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) further heightened global concerns regarding the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Strip.

The IPC uses a complex set of technical criteria. Its most extreme warning is Phase 5, which has two levels, catastrophe and famine. Famine is assessed as at least 20% of the population suffering extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two people out of every 10,000 dying daily from starvation or from malnutrition and disease.

In northern Gaza, “the upward trend in non-trauma mortality is also expected to accelerate, resulting in all famine thresholds likely to be passed imminently,” the IPC said.

The study said the number of people projected to experience “catastrophic hunger” across the besieged enclave between now and mid-July had nearly doubled to more than 1.1 million, or about half the population, since the IPC last reported in December, when there was already record hunger.

COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body responsible for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said in a response Friday that “the report contains multiple factual and methodological flaws, some of them serious.”

Humanitarian aid trucks enter the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing in Rafah, January 14, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

It argued the report grossly underestimated the amount of water available per person per day (claiming over 20 liters versus the report’s assessment of less than 1) while noting it lacked key information amid the chaos of the conflict — as acknowledged by the IPC report — and subsequently relied on incomplete data, including from Hamas.

“Given the difficulty in conducting surveys and samplings, the remotely conducted surveys, or third-party surveys within the Gaza Strip, diminish the reliability of the data,” COGAT said.

It said it has tracked reports in Palestinian media “every day” of “food markets filled with food of all types and kinds” in various parts of Gaza, including its north.

“We outright reject any allegations according to which Israel is purposefully starving the civilian population in Gaza,” COGAT also said.

“Even at the height of hostilities, in a war that was forced upon it, Israel places no limits on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, and absolutely does not limit the entrance of food. Israel also facilitates entry of complementary products such as cooking gas and diesel fuel for the operation of aid centers, bakeries, etc. Additionally, 14 million liters of water are supplied by Israel.”

It added that “in recent months between 150 and 200 trucks are admitted per day, most of which are food trucks. This is an 80% spike in comparison to the daily average food trucks that entered Gaza pre-October 7.”

COGAT once again argued that the main cause for food shortages was a lack of capability by international agencies operating in Gaza to distribute the goods: “The fact is that at any given moment there are hundreds of trucks held up at the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing after having completely been processed by the authorities in Israel, awaiting reception and distribution by the aid agencies.”

Additionally, COGAT noted the “reports and testimonies of theft, looting and commandeering of the aid trucks by armed players, some of them Hamas, others directed by Hamas, hijacking humanitarian aid and keeping it for its own interests, in a way that diminishes the amount of food that reaches the civilian population.

“Moreover, Hamas uses its control over the aid to further its governance in the Gaza Strip,” COGAT said. “This phenomenon also impairs the ongoing work of the aid agencies.”

This picture taken from Israel’s southern border with the Gaza Strip shows a military aircraft releasing parachutes of humanitarian aid over the Palestinian territory on March 27, 2024. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

COGAT noted that it is also facilitating the entry of aid into Gaza via air and sea. Aid agencies say those methods are no replacement for bringing in aid by land.

An anonymous US State Department official told Reuters on Friday that there was currently an average of 250 aid trucks a day entering Gaza, but more were needed. The official said the US was working to help get more aid regularly through Gate 96, a new entry point to reach north Gaza, citing a lack of vetted drivers.

He said that separately Israel had facilitated some 350-400 trucks of privately contracted humanitarian aid to northern Gaza over the past three or four weeks.

People gather at Israel’s Nitzana border crossing with Egypt on March 5, 2024, protesting against the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip until all hostages held by Hamas terrorists are released. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Gaza health authorities have reported children dying of malnutrition or dehydration, and UN officials say the health system has basically collapsed, making the situation hard to monitor.

“It’s impossible to find the data to meet their criteria in northern Gaza as people aren’t dying in hospital so it’s unrecorded,” said one aid worker who asked not to be named.

The IPC said that because of a lack of aid, almost all households were skipping meals every day and adults were reducing their meals so children could eat.

In northern Gaza, in nearly two-thirds of households, people went entire days and nights without eating at least 10 times in the last 30 days, it added. In southern areas, that applied to one-third of the households.

The IPC analysis said famine could still be avoided if Israel and Hamas stop fighting and aid organizations gain increased access.

US: Famine ‘quite possibly’ present in parts of north Gaza

A senior US State Department official told Reuters on Friday that famine is both a risk and “quite possibly” present in at least some areas in northern Gaza, while adding that the scarcity of trucks was a key obstacle for more humanitarian aid in the densely populated enclave.

“While we can say with confidence, that famine is a significant risk in the south and center but not present, in the north, it is both a risk and quite possibly is present in at least some areas, which accounts for the urgency with which we need to move goods, food at scale into the north,” said the senior US State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

A Palestinian man prepares plates of food before an Iftar meal, breaking of fast, on the second day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, at a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 12, 2024. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

In an apparent coordinated leak, multiple Hebrew media outlets reported Friday evening that Israel is pushing for the establishment of an international peacekeeping force to secure the Gaza Strip and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The reports said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he had made headway on the matter during his visit to Washington this week.

Earlier this month a spokesman for COGAT told The Times of Israel that “we don’t believe that there is starvation in the Gaza Strip.”

“That’s not to say that there aren’t difficulties in some areas, but that we are doing everything we can to facilitate large amounts of aid,” the spokesman said.

Israel inspects all deliveries headed into the enclave to ensure materiel is not being smuggled to Hamas, slowing the process.

Israel is able to check 44 trucks an hour at Kerem Shalom and Nitzana, said the COGAT spokesman. “That is a lot more than what can be picked up on the other side.”

“We can inspect as fast as possible,” he said, adding that when necessary “we’re more than willing to create improvements.”

The spokesman added that there was an IDF team that meets daily with the UN and other aid organizations to understand what is needed on the ground in Gaza.

The Open Arms vessel (C), carrying two hundred tonnes of food aid to the Gaza Strip, is seen docked in the Cypriot port of Larnaca on March 11, 2024. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

Gunfire and stampede reported as desperate Gazans rush for food

Meanwhile, the Palestine Red Crescent said five people were killed and dozens wounded by gunfire and a stampede during an aid delivery Saturday in northern Gaza.

The Red Crescent said it happened after thousands of people gathered for the arrival of around 15 trucks of flour and other food, which were supposed to be handed out at Gaza City’s Kuwait roundabout, in the territory’s north.

The Red Crescent said three of the five killed early Saturday had been shot.

Eyewitnesses told AFP that Gazans overseeing the aid delivery shot in the air, but alleged Israeli troops in the area also fired and some moving trucks hit people trying to get the food.

The IDF told AFP it “has no record of the incident described.”

The war broke out after Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7. Some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and another 253 abducted into Gaza as thousands of terrorists rampaged through southern Israel, carrying out atrocities such as rape and torture.

Israel responded with a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory, vowing to eliminate the terror group and free the hostages.

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