‘No food shortage in Gaza,’ says IDF official, dismissing UN claims to the contrary

During press tour at Kerem Shalom border crossing, IDF liaison flouts UN reports of starvation in Gaza, blames international organizations for delay in transfer of aid to the Strip

One of the humanitarian aid shipments awaiting entry into Gaza following an Israeli security check on January 10, 2024 at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER — The Israel Defense Force unit overseeing the transport of humanitarian aid into Gaza said on Wednesday that there are no shortages of food in the Strip, dismissing United Nations reports of widespread starvation, and alleged that existing problems were caused by the inability of the UN to properly distribute the goods once they entered the enclave.

Col. Moshe Tetro, head of COGAT’s Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza, said Israel was working daily to boost aid into the Strip. His statements came just a day before Israel is slated to appear at the International Court of Justice and face charges of genocide in the ongoing Gaza war.

The UN and other agencies reported already last month that more than half a million people in Gaza, one-fourth of the population, were starving due to insufficient quantities of food entering the territory.

Tetro said the unit is increasing the number of trucks that pass the border daily, citing a jump from the prewar average of 70 trucks a day to last week’s average, 110. Still, the amount of trucks delivering aid to Gaza remains insufficient according to the White House.

“We understand there’s a lot of hunger and starvation in Gaza,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby on Thursday. “There is not enough trucks getting in, we’re not satisfied with the level right now.”

Israel initially restricted aid into Gaza in the wake of the October 7 massacre, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists surged into Israel, killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking another 240 hostages.

“The trucks that go through security checks here are unloaded on the Gazan side of the crossing, the aid is then met by international organizations and delivered to the people of Gaza,” Tetro said.

The US has been pressing Israel for weeks to allow more humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip. The press briefing at Kerem Shalom took place against the backdrop of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fourth visit to Israel since the start of the war.

Contrary to UN reports claiming widespread starvation in the Strip, Tetro insisted “there is no food shortage in Gaza.”

“In terms of food, the reserves in Gaza are sufficient for the near term,” he said. “However, if there are any organizations that would like to bring more food, we are happy to facilitate it — to the south and to the north.”

Col. Moshe Tetro speaks during a briefing at the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza on January 10, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

The UN Security Council passed a resolution in late December calling for the “immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance” to civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Tetro also denied any bottlenecks on the Israeli end were preventing aid from reaching the enclave, asserting instead that “the problem lies with the international organizations processing and receiving the aid.”

International aid organizations, however, claim they are struggling to deliver food, medicine, water and other supplies to Gaza’s north due to Israeli authorities’ “recurring denials of access for aid deliverers” and failure to provide safe access for deliverers according to a recent report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Between January 1-11, OCHA reports that less than a quarter of planned aid deliveries reached the north of Gaza, calling the figure a “significant deterioration” from last month’s 70% successful aid missions to the north, where around 200,000 people still reside.

Since ordering civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate southward at the war’s outset, the IDF has severely limited the amount of humanitarian aid to the region, citing fears that those who remain are potential Hamas fighters seeking to hijack assistance. But UN agencies say hundreds of thousands of civilians still remain in northern Gaza in dire need of assistance.

World Food Programme executive director Carl Skau said last week that the reason for delays is the “serious bottleneck at the Rafah border crossing” rather than UN personnel shortages. “Our teams are sitting on the other side of the border waiting to pick up what comes through, so this is not done in a sustainable way.”

Before Kerem Shalom’s reopening, trucks carrying humanitarian aid were inspected by Israeli authorities at the Nitzana Crossing between Israel and Egypt, before it was sent to Rafah.

In mid-December, under American pressure to lessen delays in the entry of food, water, and medical supplies, the Israeli security cabinet approved the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing, first just for the checking of aid which would be rerouted to Rafah, and later also for its entry directly into Gaza.

At the crossing Wednesday, after Israeli authorities examined aid that arrived that day, Egyptian workers repackaged the trucks carrying rice, sliced carrots and corned beef, then drove them across the border into Gaza.

Farid Muhammad from Mansoura, Egypt came to Kerem Shalom border crossing for the first time on January 10 to help transfer aid into Gaza. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Farid Muhammad, who traveled from Mansoura, Egypt, to transfer aid into the Strip, said that this was his first time working at the border crossing.

“If there’s another opportunity I’ll come, it’s my duty for my brothers [in Gaza],” he said after preparing a truck. “We’re doing everything we can, whatever is possible… I hope it’s enough, I really do.”

In addition to food, which COGAT says comprises 70% of truckloads to Gaza, water, medical supplies and equipment for makeshift shelters also pass through Kerem Shalom.

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