Communications blackout and spiraling hunger compound misery in Gaza as war enters 11th week

AP , Saturday 16 Dec 2023

A prolonged communications blackout that severed telephone and internet connections compounded the misery Saturday in the besieged Gaza Strip, where a United Nations agency said hunger levels had spiraled in recent days.

Palestinians search for bodies and survivors in the rubble of a residential building destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AP


Internet and telephone lines went down Thursday evening and were still inaccessible Saturday morning, according to internet access advocacy group, hampering aid deliveries and rescue efforts as Israeli war on Gaza stretched into the 11th week.

“The internet blackout is ongoing, and based on our records it is the longest such incident” in the over-two-month war, said Alp Toker, the group’s director. The United Nations’ humanitarian affairs department said communications with Gaza were “severely disrupted” due to damage to telecommunications lines in the south.

The Israeli war has flattened much of northern Gaza and driven 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes. Displaced people have squeezed into shelters mainly in the south in a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has expressed unease over Israel’s failure to reduce civilian casualties and its plans for the future of Gaza, but the White House continues to offer wholehearted support with weapons shipments and diplomatic backing.

In meetings with Israeli leaders on Thursday and Friday, United States national security adviser Jake Sullivan discussed a timetable for winding down the intense combat phase of the war. U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was also expected to visit Israel soon to discuss the issue.

The U.S. has pushed Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, and the government said it would open a second entry point to speed up deliveries.

With only a trickle of aid able to enter and distribution disrupted by fighting, the U.N.’s World Food Program reported a surge from 38% to 56% in the number of displaced households experiencing severe levels of hunger in the space of under two weeks.

In the north, where aid has been unable to enter, “households … are expected to face a catastrophic situation,” the WFP said.

Israel has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, mainly women and children, the Health Ministry said Thursday before the communications blackout. Thousands more are missing and feared dead beneath the rubble.

On Friday, Israeli strike killed a Palestinian journalist and wounded another in the southern city of Khan Younis, both working for the Al Jazeera television network. The two were reporting at a school-shelter that had been hit by an earlier airstrike when a drone launched a second strike.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Samer Abu Daqqa was the 64th journalist to be killed since the war erupted: 57 Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese.

Khan Younis has been the main target of Israel’s ground offensive in the south.

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