Jordan, EU foreign policy chief accuse Israel of deliberately starving Gazans

Foreign Minister Katz rejects statements, places blame on Hamas disruption of aid efforts; UN report says famine can be averted

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell arrives for a Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 18, 2024. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell arrives for a Foreign Affairs Council meeting at the EU headquarters in Brussels, on March 18, 2024. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP)

Israel came under withering criticism from neighboring Jordan, the European Union and international organizations on Monday, including accusations that it is purposely starving Gazan civilians.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told an EU foreign ministers meeting that “starvation is used as a weapon of war. Israel is provoking famine.” He made similar comments to the UN Security Council last week.

Also on Monday, the head of UNRWA, the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, said that the hunger in the Gaza Strip was “man-made.”

A UN-backed report said famine was expected in some 70% of households in the north of the Gaza Strip between now and May.

Across the whole of the Strip, the number of people facing “catastrophic hunger” has risen to 1.1 million, or some half of the population, according to a report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, a collaboration of over a dozen international organizations, including several UN agencies.

And at a press conference in Amman with his Brazilian counterpart, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi accused Israel of “starving children to death and taking more than 2 million Palestinians hostage.”

Rejecting the accusations, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said Israel was allowing aid into Gaza.

“Israel allows extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza by land, air, and sea for anyone willing to help,” Katz wrote on X. “Despite Hamas violently disrupting aid convoys and UNRWA’s collaboration with them, we persist.”

Foreign Minister Israel Katz tours the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, February 19, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

He added that Borrell should “stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defense against Hamas’s crimes.”

UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said during a press conference in Cairo with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry: “We are engaged in a race against the clock to try to reverse the impact of the spreading hunger and the looming famine in the Gaza Strip.”

The crisis could be resolved and reversed if there were political will to do so and Gaza could be “flooded” with food through land crossings, he added.

Palestinians rush to collect the humanitarian aid airdropped into Gaza City, Gaza Strip, on March 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Hajjar)

The UN agency chief also said more than 150 of UNRWA’s facilities have been hit, damaged or completely destroyed during Israel’s air and land campaign to destroy Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that rules the territory and that sparked the war with its deadly attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7.

“We also know that a number of staff that have been arrested have gone through very tough investigation, ill-treatment and humiliation,” Lazzarini said.

The UN official said his entry request to Gaza’s border town of Rafah had been declined: “I intended to go to Rafah today, but I have been informed an hour ago that my entry into Rafah is declined.”

The rejection was not the responsibility of the Egyptian government, Shoukry said. “You were declined by the Israeli government, refused the entry which is an unprecedented move for representative at this high position,” he said.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, center, speaks with his Cypriot counterpart Constantinos Kombos, during their meeting at the foreign house in Nicosia, Cyprus, on Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem told The Times of Israel that it had not received any request from Lazzarini.

COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body governing civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, said on X that Lazzarini had not followed “the necessary coordination processes and channels” when requesting entry into Gaza.

“This is another attempt by UNRWA to blame Israel for their own mistakes,” it said of the UN agency at the centre of efforts to provide humanitarian relief in Gaza.

Israel has been under increasing pressure to allow more aid into Gaza. The United States has joined other countries in airdropping supplies to the isolated region of northern Gaza and has announced plans to construct a pier to get aid in.

The UN has reported particular difficulty in accessing northern Gaza for deliveries of food and other aid. Residents say they have resorted to eating wild plants and animal fodder, and some have stormed the few aid trucks that have made it through, sometimes with deadly consequences.

Monday’s UN-backed report said it was not too late to stop famine from taking hold.

Illustrative: UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the UNRWA headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

“The rapidly escalating hunger crisis in the Gaza Strip must immediately be curbed. This requires putting an end to the hostilities, mobilizing
necessary resources and ensuring the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza,” the report read.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 31,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified, and includes those killed by the terror groups’ failed rocket launches and some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Israeli soldiers scuffle with Jewish settlers from the Einav settlement, trying to storm the West Bank town of Deir Sharaf, near Nablus, November 2, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh / AFP)

Ahead of the EU meeting, Borrell also said he is confident that the body will agree on sanctions against both Hamas and violent Israeli West Bank settlers.

“It seems that today all will agree on putting sanctions on both Hamas and the violent settlers who are harassing Palestinians in the West Bank,” he told reporters.

The EU was close to agreeing on the sanctions after Hungary signaled an end to its opposition, European diplomats said on Friday.

Some EU members close to Israel, such as Germany and Austria, had said they were ready to approve sanctions on violent settlers once more sanctions had been imposed on Hamas.

Reuters and AFP contributed to this report.

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