Hunger grips north of Gaza amid ongoing truce talks

AFP , Sunday 25 Feb 2024

Dire food shortages sent hundreds of Palestinians fleeing northern Gaza on Sunday as Israel's war on the Strip raged on despite stuttering efforts towards a ceasefire and captive deal.

FILE - Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. AP


Desperate families in the north of the besieged war zone have been forced to scavenge for food as fighting and looting have stopped humanitarian aid trucks from reaching the devastated area.

Hundreds fled northern Gaza Sunday and headed south whichever way the could, walking down garbage-strewn roads between the blackened shells of bombed-out buildings, said an AFP correspondent.

"I came on foot from north Gaza," said one of them, Samir Abd Rabbo, 27, who arrived with his one-year-old daughter at the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip.

"I can't describe the kind of starvation spreading there."

Without milk, he said, he had tried to feed his baby girl bread made from animal feed, which she was unable to digest. "Our only hope is God, there is nobody else to help."

Israeli forces meanwhile kept striking targets across the Palestinian territory as heavy urban combat centred on the southern city of Khan Yunis.The Palestinian Health  ministry said early Sunday that another 98 people had been killed overnight, with the Hamas media office reporting strikes along the length of the territory.

Close to the main battlefront, in the far-southern Rafah region, alarm has grown among 1.4 million Palestinians of a looming ground invasion feared to bring more mass civilian casualties.

 Ceasefire talks

Talks have been held for weeks with the goal of reaching a temporary truce, to exchange Hamas's captives for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, and to step up aid deliveries.

US, Arab and other mediators have voiced hope a deal can be reached before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on March 10 or 11, depending on the lunar calendar.

An Israeli delegation returned Saturday from the latest round of closed-door talks in Paris, also involving Egyptian and Qatari mediators hoping to bridge remaining differences.

Israel's national security advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi, said "there is probably room to move towards an agreement".

Media reports suggest both sides are weighing a six-week halt to fighting and the initial exchange of dozens of female, underage and ill captives for several hundred Palestinian detainees.

Hamas has so far also insisted on a full withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, a demand Netanyahu has dismissed as "delusional".

An Israeli team will this week head to Qatar for further talks, media reports said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would convene the cabinet early in the week "to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population from there".

"Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war's goals," he added.

 Scavenging for food

Israeli warnings of a Rafah ground invasion have sparked deep concern, and questions about where the Palestinians now living there would flee to in the devastated territory.

UN and other aid agencies have repeatedly warned that "nowhere is safe" in Gaza.

Gaza's humanitarian crisis has meanwhile spiralled, with the UN World Food Programme reporting "unprecedented levels of desperation".

Some residents have resorted to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder, the meat of slaughtered horses, and even leaves from trees.

The health ministry said Saturday that a two-month-old baby named Mahmud Fatuh had died of "malnutrition" in Gaza City.

In northern Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held out plastic containers and cooking pots for what little food was available.

In AFP TV footage, protesters were seen holding signs that read "our children are starving".

One man said angrily that "we, the grown-ups, can still make it, but these children who are four and five years old, what did they do wrong to sleep hungry and wake up hungry?"

 Protests in Tel Aviv

Inside Israel, public pressure has grown on Netanyahu -- both from the desperate families of captives, and from a resurgent anti-government protest movement.

Thousands again rallied in Tel Aviv Saturday night to demand swifter action.

Nearby, protesters were blocking streets and calling for Netanyahu's government to step down as police deployed water cannon and mounted officers to disperse them.

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