In the ruins of Gaza, children are starving to death and there’s no cease-fire in sight

Five months after Hamas launched multiple attacks on Israel, nearly half of Gaza’s buildings are in ruins and at least 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the enclave’s health ministry, which along with aid groups warns that some of the most vulnerable children in the area have begun to starve.

The Israeli army controls parts of the Gaza Strip and has threatened to attack Rafah, a city in the south where 1.5 million Palestinians have fled, unless a ceasefire is reached next week. Israel failed to achieve its military goals of destroying Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people and rescuing the more than a hundred remaining hostages taken that day. It’s unclear whether either is even possible.

Abroad, the worsening humanitarian tragedy has increased international pressure on Israel. Even friends like the US, which provides Israel with $3 billion in weapons and other military aid each year, have joined the chorus, at least rhetorically, in pressing Israel to allow more aid into the enclave, where the Palestinians sit huddled in camps and sleep. the streets.

The US is also sponsoring talks in Egypt to negotiate a ceasefire near the start of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, which begins on Sunday. That could mean a hostage-prisoner swap, a stop to fighting and a new flow of aid to Gaza. But deep differences remain, and there was no sign of a breakthrough on Thursday when Hamas said its delegation had left the Egyptian capital to meet with its leaders.

“If children start dying of hunger, it should be a warning like no other,” Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations humanitarian agency, said at a news briefing on Tuesday. “If not now, when is the time to pull the plugs, break the glass and flood Gaza with the help it needs?”

The raw statistics are grim.

U.S. and U.N. officials have said the death toll from the Palestinian Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, is likely an undercount. Emergency workers on the ground estimate that thousands of people remain buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings.

About 80% of the population, or 1.9 million people, have been forced to flee their homes, some as many as half a dozen times, due to the Israeli military advance south, according to the UN. According to World Bank research, around 60% of Gaza’s buildings have been damaged, with 45% destroyed – including schools, hospitals, bakeries, mosques and thousands of homes.

Even by the meager standards of Gaza, which Israel and Egypt have blocked for 16 years, there are shortages of everything: water, food, fuel, electricity and medicine. The US has sent several aid packages to Gaza in recent days, but even if successful, they will not solve the problem. As desperation mounted, more than a hundred Palestinians were killed last week in a chaotic encounter with Israeli forces surrounding an aid convoy.

Due to the lack of clean water, diseases such as diarrhea and hepatitis are widespread. Due to the lack of food, people are simply dying of hunger, according to local doctors and international aid workers.

Gaza’s Health Ministry has reported that at least 16 children have died since last week due to malnutrition and dehydration. It has also raised concerns about six babies it said were being treated for malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the city of Beit Lahia.

Some had underlying health conditions, like Yazan Kafarneh, 10, who was admitted by an NBC News crew before dying Monday. Yazan had relied on a special diet such as mixed fruits and milk, products now unavailable in Gaza, doctors told Reuters.

Photos showing the emaciated boy covered in blankets and given intravenous fluids were widely shared on social media after his death.

Yazan Kafarneh lay on a hospital bed in the Al-Awda clinic in Rafah, southern Gaza, last month.AFP-Getty Images

After the UN warned last week that famine in Gaza was “almost inevitable,” Adele Khodr, the regional director of the UN children’s agency UNICEF, warned on Sunday that “the child deaths we feared are happening here as malnutrition hits Gaza.” plagues.”

The World Health Organization, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and the World Food Program have issued similar warnings.

The people of Gaza have been “totally dehumanized, deprived of their own dignity and their human well-being,” said Dalal Iriqat, a Palestinian associate professor of diplomacy at the Arab-American University, based in the occupied West Bank. “Let alone the fact that they have lost all their belongings, their homes and in many cases their family members.”

She shares the view of many Palestinians that the war is not about Hamas at all, but rather about what they see as a thinly veiled, decades-long desire by the Israeli government to drive them out of Gaza and repopulate it with Israelis.

Far-right members of Israel’s governing coalition have openly supported the idea of ​​expelling Palestinians from Gaza, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that this is his policy.

Unbowed by international pressure to soften his military onslaught, Netanyahu remains adamant that the country must eliminate Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s existence and is a banned terrorist group in the West.

The 134 remaining hostages, some of whom are presumed dead, pose a constant and growing torment not only to their campaigning families, but to the nation and the Jewish diaspora as a whole. In a report on Tuesday, which many saw as long overdue, the UN said there was “clear and convincing” evidence that women and children had been subjected to “sexual violence, including rape” and “sexualized torture”, after the attacks of October 7. . Hostages in Gaza may still be receiving the same treatment, the report said.

Polls show that most Israelis support the war in Gaza.

“What happened on October 7 is still alive in the Israeli mindset,” said Nimrod Goren, a Jerusalem-based senior fellow for Israeli affairs at the Washington-based Middle East Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. “Even people who have lost all confidence in Netanyahu still believe that the military objectives that were set were the right ones to pursue – it is very different from what the international discourse is about.”

Militarily, Israel controls most of northern Gaza, as well as parts of the south, according to an ongoing analysis by the Institute for the Study of War, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. Hours after Hamas’ attack, it began a brutal bombing campaign on Gaza, launching a land invasion on October 27.

Netanyahu has strongly indicated his intention to attack Rafah next, believing it to be the location of four Hamas battalions. The government has ordered the people sheltering there to evacuate again, to which many respond: where to?

Another problem for Israel is that Hamas has not yet been completely driven out of the north, with some locals and analysts seeing signs that Hamas has regrouped in areas outside Israeli control. Israel says it has killed as many as 10,000 Hamas fighters. Both that figure and the number of Hamas members in total are unconfirmed, making it difficult to understand the extent to which the group has actually been weakened.

Israel may be able to wipe out the militants and their bases. But harder to kill are the ideas behind the group: at once fiercely anti-Semitic and reviled in the West, but also seen as a bastion of resistance by many Palestinians who feel that every other path, peaceful or otherwise, has been thwarted.

“A major failure – one that I think is intentional – is the inability to prepare for the ‘day after,’” said Michael Horowitz, chief intelligence officer at Le Beck International, a security consultancy. and risk management.

“There is no one to take control of Gaza, not even the beginning of a solution.”

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