Gazans break fast without 'joy of Ramadan' as Israeli war grinds on

AFP , Tuesday 12 Mar 2024

The first day of Ramadan came and went in Gaza, with Palestinians marking a joyless iftar against a backdrop of famine, disease, and displacement as the war in the besieged territory ground on more than five months after it began.

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A Palestinian family prepares to break its fast during the first day of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan sitting amidst the ruins of their family house in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza Strip, on March 11, 2024. AFP

 

As the Muslim world welcomed the start of the holy month on Monday, the Paslestinians in Gaza faced continued Israeli bombardments and a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

With the flow of food and other assistance slowed to a trickle, a UN report citing the Palestinian health ministry said 25 people have now died from malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children.

In Gaza's southern border city of Rafah, where 1.5 million people, dosplaced by Israel, have sought refuge, the usual generous iftar meal marking the end of the day's fast was replaced by "canned food and beans", said displaced Khan Younis resident Mohammad al-Masry.

"We didn't prepare anything. What do displaced people have?" al-Masry said.

"We don't feel the joy of Ramadan... Look at the people staying in tents in the cold."

Om Muhammad Abu Matar, also displaced from Khan Younis, told AFP that this year, Ramadan had "the taste of blood and misery, separation and oppression".

Aid groups have been warning of the risk of famine in Gaza for weeks, and the United Nations has reported particular difficulty in accessing the territory's north for deliveries of food and other aid.

"We are running out of time," Cindy McCain, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), said Monday. "If we do not exponentially increase the size of aid going into the northern areas" of Gaza, she said, "famine is imminent".

 'Destruction and rubble' 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Monday for "silencing the guns" during the holy month and said he was "appalled and outraged that conflict is continuing".

In Gaza City, surrounded by collapsed buildings, one family gathered around a table next to the ruins of their home to break the fast on Monday.

"Today is the first day of Ramadan. We decided to come and break the fast here in our home that was struck, despite the destruction and the rubble," said Om Shaher Al Qta'a.

Earlier in the day, Zaki Abu Mansour told AFP in Rafah that his last meal before the fast began had been meagre, and he didn't know what his next one would be.

"Here's my kitchen," the displaced Khan Younis resident added, gesturing to a corner of his tent. "I have only a tomato and a cucumber -- that's all I have, and I have no money to buy anything."

With aid entering Gaza by truck, been blocked by Israel, and are far below pre-war levels, Gazans are increasingly desperate, and foreign governments have turned to airdrops. They are now trying to open a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus.

A senior US administration official has said the Cyprus initiative provides a platform at the port of Larnaca for "screening by Israeli officials of Gaza-bound goods".

The cumbersome screenings are a major reason current shortages are so glaring, aid workers say.

The United States and other countries again airdropped supplies into northern Gaza on Monday, but aid workers have said land deliveries would be much more effective.

Daniel Hagari, Israel's military spokesman, on Monday, claimed an air strike on an underground compound in central Gaza had targeted Marwan Issa, deputy head of Hamas's armed wing, though it was unclear if he was killed.

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a truce and captives exchange deal ahead of Ramadan, as Israel decided to boycott it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from families of captives as well as critics of his government and has also come in for increasingly sharp criticism from key backer the United States.

Asked about the apparent friction between him and US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu said in an interview with Fox News on Monday that "we have our agreements on the basic goals, but we also have disagreements on how to achieve them".

"Ultimately, it's Israel that has to decide. Our neck is on the line... I'm telling you that we're not getting off the gas."

Netanyahu has said since the start of the war that Israel will press on until Hamas has been "eradicated."

But in an annual threat assessment report released Monday, US national security officials suggested that goal would be difficult to achieve, predicting Israel would likely "face lingering armed resistance from Hamas for years to come".

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