Israel uses starvation as weapon of war in Gaza: EU - as it happened

Ahram Online , Monday 18 Mar 2024

On the 163rd day of the Israeli war on Gaza, a growing chorus of UN officials and humanitarian organizations is raising the alarm about an imminent famine in the Strip, exacerbated by Israel's persistent blockade and relentless bombardment.

Israeli bombardment
Palestinians flee the area after Israeli bombardment in central Gaza City on March 18, 2024. AFP


22:44 The US State Department said Washington "wants to see this conflict end as soon as possible."

In a department press briefing, spokesperson Vedant Patel said: "In fact, Hamas could end this conflict yesterday. Hamas could lay down its arms, all of its arms."

And on the impact on children, "we are, of course, devasted by the toll that this conflict has taken. It is an unspeakable tragedy, the number of children that have been killed, and it is an unacceptable outcome of the fighting of the past five months."

He added that Washington "reiterated to our Israeli partners that additional steps must be taken to minimize civilian casualties."

21:00 US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he was deeply concerned by Israeli plans for a ground operation in Rafah, adding that an offensive would be a "mistake," the White House said.

Netanyahu had also agreed to Biden's request to send a delegation of senior Israeli officials to Washington to discuss the plans and a possible "alternative approach," National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

“We’ve arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective,” Sullivan said.

The White House has been skeptical of Netanyahu’s plan to carry out a military attack on Rafah.

This was their first interaction in more than a month, as the divide has grown between allies over the food crisis in Gaza, blockage of aid, and Israel's conduct during the war, according to the White House.

19:05 Israel released Al Jazeera journalist Ismail Al-Ghoul and other journalists after detaining them for 12 hours in Al-Shifa Hospital, the Qatar-based newspaper announced.

Al Jazeera earlier said Israeli forces had beaten and arrested its correspondent Al-Ghoul during a raid on Gaza's largest hospital with witnesses reporting air strikes and tanks near the facility, which was crowded with patients and displaced people.

In testimony following his release, Al-Ghoul said the Israeli forces bulldozed the journalists' tent and destroyed their cars during the storming of the hospital.

They kept us without clothes for 12 hours, handcuffed, and blindfolded, and interrogated all the journalists present in the place, he added.


18:56 The European Union accused Israel of provoking famine and using starvation as a weapon of war.

"In Gaza, we are no longer on the brink of famine, we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

"This is unacceptable. Starvation is used as a weapon of war. Israel is provoking famine," he said at the opening of a conference on humanitarian aid for Gaza in Brussels.

Josep Borrell and EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič also issued a statement saying that "we are already witnessing with horror the death of children due to starvation."

"Hunger cannot be used as a weapon of war. What we are seeing is not a natural hazard but a manmade disaster, and it is our moral duty to stop it."

"While we are exploring all possible means of aid delivery, including airdrops and maritime corridors, these do not replace the most viable and effective solution which is the full and unconditional opening of land access," they added in the statement.

"An urgent expansion of existing access points for land deliveries, and the opening of additional access routes, is needed to secure impactful food assistance for the entire population of Gaza, the provision of specialized medical aid to address malnutrition, and the implementation of public health measures."

They urged Israel to allow free, unimpeded, safe humanitarian access, and to cooperate with UNRWA and other UN agencies and other humanitarian actors involved.


17:21 Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian Chief, also sounded the alarm about the famine looming in Gaza.

The international community should hang its head in shame for failing to stop it, he said. 

"There is no time to lose," he added, as he renewed the call on Israel to allow complete and unfettered access for humanitarian goods to the Strip.


17:09 Gaza has become a “graveyard” for children, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. "13,790 children have been killed since the beginning of the war on Gaza," the PRCS added, recalling that "In times of war, all civilians are protected under International Humanitarian Law."


16:30 The International Court of Justice announced that Israel submitted on 15 March its observations on South Africa’s urgent request of 6 March for additional provisional measures and the modification of the ICJ’s prior decisions in the case.


The Israeli government continues to block aid despite ICJ genocide court ruling, says Oxfam

“The fact that other governments have not challenged Israel hard enough, but instead turned to less effective methods like airdrops and maritime corridors is a huge red flag, signalling that Israel continues to deny the full potential of better ways to deliver more aid.”

In a new report today, Oxfam said Israeli authorities rejected a warehouse full of international aid including oxygen, incubators, and Oxfam water and sanitation gear all of which is now stockpiled at Arish, in Egypt, just 25 miles away from the border of 2.3 million desperate Palestinians in Gaza.

This rejected aid was just one example of an overall humanitarian response that Israel has made so dangerous and dysfunctional as to be impossible for aid agencies to work at the speed and scale necessary to save lives, despite best efforts, Oxfam said.

The aid originates from many humanitarian organizations around the world and has been rejected over weeks and months as a result of an unpredictable and chaotic regime of approval, scanning, and inspection, ultimately controlled by Israeli authorities, it added.

Oxfam says that Israel ultimately bears accountability for the breakdown of the international response to the crisis in Gaza.

It is failing in its legal responsibilities to the people whose land it occupies and breaking one of the key provisions demanded by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – to boost humanitarian aid in light of the risk of genocide in Gaza.

16:27 An increasing number of humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm about the imminent threat of famine in Gaza.

"Famine is imminent in northern Gaza," stated UNRWA, highlighting that "Over 1.1 million people in the Gaza Strip are facing catastrophic food insecurity."

This represents nearly half of Gaza's population.

"There's no time to lose. A humanitarian ceasefire is urgently needed," emphasized the UN agency.

Palestinians in Gaza are enduring horrifying levels of hunger and suffering, the United Nations also said.

"This is the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger ever recorded by the Integrated Food Security Classification system –anywhere, anytime," António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the UN said.

He labeled the latest report on food insecurity in Gaza as an "appalling indictment" of the conditions faced by civilians in the region.

With famine looming over the northern parts of Gaza, Guterres emphasized that more than half of the population has depleted their food supplies, plunging them into catastrophic hunger.

The UN chief said: "Palestinians in Gaza are enduring horrifying levels of hunger and suffering."

"This is the highest number of people facing catastrophic hunger ever recorded by the Integrated Food Security Classification system –anywhere, anytime," he stressed.

Guterres described the situation in Gaza as "an entirely manmade disaster" and said that the situation can be halted.


"Today’s report is Exhibit A for the need for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire," he said.

Calling on "the Israeli authorities to ensure complete and unfettered access for humanitarian goods throughout Gaza," Guterres also urged "the international community to fully support our humanitarian efforts."

"We must act now to prevent the unthinkable, the unacceptable and the unjustifiable," he added.

"The hunger situation in Gaza is devastating: famine is imminent and it could have grave immediate and long-term health consequences. There was no reason for this catastrophe to happen," the World Health Organization chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X.

Before October 2023, there was enough food in Gaza to feed the population. Malnutrition was a rare occurrence. Now, people are dying of hunger, many more are sick.

"Over a million people are at risk unless significantly more food is allowed to enter Gaza."

"The only way to reverse this is through peace," he added.


16:00 Half of Gazans are experiencing "catastrophic" hunger, with famine projected to hit the territory's north by May without urgent intervention, a UN-backed food security assessment said Monday.

"To have 50 percent of an entire population in catastrophic, near famine levels, is unprecedented," Beth Bechdol, the deputy director-general of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told AFP.

It amounts to around 1.1 million people experiencing "catastrophic food insecurity" due to the Israeli war on Gaza, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification that provides food security and nutrition analyses for decision-making said in its report.

It said its Review Committee confirms famine is imminent in the northern governorates of Gaza Strip anytime between now and May 2024.

The IPC hunger monitoring system, carried out by the United Nations and aid agencies, rates hunger levels from one to five and is used by the UN or governments in deciding whether or not to declare a famine.

It added that relentless hostilities and severely restricted humanitarian access have inflicted catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity on the population of the Strip.


"All evidence points towards a major acceleration of deaths and malnutrition. Waiting for a retrospective famine classification before acting is indefensible," it said.

Donors have turned to deliveries by air or sea, but air and sea missions are no alternative to land deliveries, UN agencies say.

Famine will occur under "the most likely scenario", based on assumptions that the conflict will escalate -- including a ground offensive in Rafah -- and hostilities continue to impede humanitarian aid delivery, the IPC report said.

Read the full report here.

15:00 The World Health Organization chief voiced alarm Monday after Israeli forces launched an operation at Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa Medical Complex, warning the fighting was "endangering health workers, patients and civilians."

"We are terribly worried about the situation at Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

He cautioned that "any hostilities or militarisation of the facility jeopardize health services, access for ambulances, and delivery of life-saving supplies."


14:00 Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera said Israeli forces had beaten and arrested its correspondent Ismail Al-Ghoul during a raid on Monday on Gaza's largest hospital.

The Israeli army claimed it was targetting Hamas militants at the Al-Shifa Hospital, with witnesses reporting air strikes and tanks near the facility which was crowded with patients and displaced people.

"The occupation army severely beat #Al Jazeera correspondent Ismail Al-Ghoul before arresting him from inside Al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza," Al Jazeera said in a post on X.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An Al Jazeera source told AFP that five other people, including Ghoul's camera crew and engineers, were also arrested.

The source, who was not authorized to brief the press and spoke on condition of anonymity, said an Israeli tank destroyed the vehicle Ghoul and his team were using.

Last month, the network accused Israel of systematically targeting Al Jazeera employees working in Gaza.

As of Monday, at least 95 journalists and media workers had been confirmed dead in the Israel-Hamas war, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), citing "preliminary investigations".

Of those 90 were Palestinians, CPJ said.

Two Al Jazeera journalists have been killed during Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza, while bureau chief Wael Al-Dahdouh was wounded.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 31,726 people and injured nearly 75,000, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry in the strip.

13:00 Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry stressed that funding for UNRWA, the United Nations agency serving millions of Palestinian refugees in various regions, should not be constrained by baseless accusations.

This came during a press conference in Cairo alongside UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini on Monday.

He blamed Israeli authorities for refusing the entry of Philippe Lazzarini, to Gaza’s southern city of Rafah on Monday.

Lazzarini revealed, in the press conference, that he had planned to visit Rafah but was informed that his entry had been denied.

Shoukry described this entry refusal of a high-level UN official while carrying out his duties as “unprecedented.”

Shoukry commended UNRWA's efforts in assisting Palestinians across different areas, including Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank.

He emphasized the importance of continuing financial support for UNRWA.

Shoukry affirmed that the UNRWA’s reputation and 40,000 staff should not be tarnished by mere allegations lacking evidence.

“The international community must recognize the burden and responsibility it has to shoulder if the UNRWA stops to exist,” he added.

Major donors, including the United States, Britain, and Germany, halted their funding to the agency in February after Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff were involved in Hamas’ 7 October operation against Israel.

As Israel failed to provide any evidence for the claims made against UNRWA staff, the European Union, Sweden, Denmark, and Canada have rescinded their previous decisions and announced plans to resume funding for UNRWA.

12:00 Palestinians "need the bombs to stop," Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said as he made an impassioned plea for a ceasefire in Gaza, speaking during a St Patrick's Day reception at the White House.

"The people of Gaza desperately need food, medicine, and shelter, and most especially they need the bombs to stop," Varadkar said as Biden, who has come under pressure both internationally and at home over his support for ally Israel, looked on.

"The aspirations of the Palestinian people to have a homeland and a fully-fledged state in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel's," said Varadkar, who has been one of Europe's most critical leaders of Israel's war on Gaza.

“The Irish people are deeply troubled about the catastrophe that's unfolding before our eyes in Gaza.", Varadkar said.

"We see our history in their eyes, a story of displacement, of dispossession, and (in which) national identity questions are denied. Forced emigration, discrimination, and now hunger," he said, invoking his country's bitter memories of its own struggles against British rule.

On Friday, the Irish leader had even more stridently called out the United States' support for Israel.

"I think none of us like to see American weapons being used in the way they are. The way they're being used at the moment is not self-defence," Varadkar said after meeting with Biden in the Oval Office.

In the initial days of the war, the Irish Parliament approved a motion calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of all civilians in Gaza.

The Irish Parliament also allocated an additional funding of €13 million for humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

In November, Ireland was among the few EU countries that voted in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

In February, defying Israel's allegations against the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA), Irealan announced 20 million euros ($21.46 million) in support for the UNRWA and urged countries that suspended funding to resume and expand support to the agency.

11:00 Israel will send a high-level delegation headed by its Mossad chief David Barnea to Qatar on Monday for mediated talks with Hamas designed to secure a six-week Gaza truce, under which the Palestinian militants would free 40 captives, an Israeli official said.

This stage of the negotiations could take at least two weeks, the official estimated, citing difficulties that Hamas' foreign delegates may have in communicating with the group in the besieged Gaza after more than five months of the Israeli war, according to Reuters.

Barnea, Qatar's PM Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, and Egyptian officials are expected to hold talks in Doha on Monday on a potential Gaza truce and captive exchange deal, a source with knowledge of the talks told AFP.

International mediators from Egypt, Qatar, and the US had hoped to secure a six-week truce before Ramadan started earlier this week, but Hamas refused any deal that would not lead to a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a demand that Israel rejected.

In recent days, however, both sides have made moves to get the talks, which never fully broke off, back on track.

Hamas gave mediators a new proposal for a three-stage plan that would end the fighting, according to two Egyptian officials, one involved in the talks and a second briefed on them.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the contents of the sensitive discussions.

The first stage would be a six-week ceasefire that would include the release of 35 captives — women, those who are ill, and older people — being held by militants in Gaza in exchange for 350 Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel.

Hamas would also release at least five female soldiers in exchange for 50 prisoners, including some serving long sentences on terror charges, for each soldier.

Israeli forces would withdraw from two main roads in Gaza, let displaced Palestinians return to north Gaza, which has been devastated by the fighting, and allow the free flow of aid to the area, the officials said.

In the second phase, the two sides would declare a permanent ceasefire and Hamas would free the remaining Israeli soldiers held captive in exchange for more prisoners, the officials said.

In the third phase, Hamas would hand over the bodies it is holding in exchange for Israel lifting the blockade of Gaza and allowing reconstruction to start, the officials said.

10:00 Israeli forces have launched another raid on the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, with witnesses reporting air strikes on the devastated neighbourhood, where it is located.

The Palestinian health ministry said the army attacked the hospital early Monday, directing gun and missile fire at a building used for specialized surgeries. It says a fire broke out at the hospital’s gate.

The ministry said around 30,000 people are sheltering at the hospital, including patients, medical staff, and people who have fled their homes seeking safety.

It added that it had received calls from people near the hospital site who claimed there were dozens of casualties.

"No one could transport them to the hospital due to the intensity of gunfire and artillery shelling," the ministry said.

Witnesses in Gaza City told AFP they saw tanks surround the hospital site.

The government media office in Gaza condemned the operation, saying that "the storming of the Al-Shifa medical complex with tanks, drones, and weapons, and shooting inside it, is a war crime."

The army has raided and destroyed other hospitals across the territory.

Most of Gaza’s medical facilities have been forced to shut down for lack of fuel and medical supplies, even as scores of people are killed and wounded each day in Israeli strikes.

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