After warnings that Israel’s siege is causing famine, children begin to die in Gaza

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — It’s not just Israeli bombs that have killed children war-ravaged Gaza – now some are dying of hunger.

Officials have been warning of Israel’s siege and offensive for months causing famine in the Palestinian area.

Hungry though most acutely in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces and has long suffered from food supplies. At least 20 people have died from malnutrition and dehydration in the northern Kamal Adwan and Shifa hospitals, according to the Ministry of Health. Most of the dead are children – including children as young as 15 – and a 72-year-old man.

Particularly vulnerable children are also beginning to succumb in the south, where access to help is more regular.

Sixteen premature babies have died from malnutrition-related causes at the Emirati hospital in Rafah in the past five weeks, one of its senior doctors told The Associated Press.

“The child deaths we feared are here,” UNICEF Middle East chief Adele Khodr said in a statement earlier this week.

Israeli bombings and ground attacks have already taken a heavy toll among children, who, along with women, make up almost three-quarters of the more than 30,800 Palestinians killed, Gaza’s health ministry said.

Malnutrition generally leads slowly to death, with children and the elderly affected first. Other factors may play a role. Malnourished mothers have difficulty breastfeeding their children. Diarrheal diseases, which are rampant in Gaza due to a lack of clean water and sanitation, leave many unable to retain the calories they consume, said Anuradha Narayan, a UNICEF child nutritionist. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, sometimes leading to death from other diseases.

Israel largely cut off access to food, water, medicine and other supplies after launching the attack on Gaza following Hamas’ attack on southern Israel on October 7, in which militants killed some 1,200 people and took about 250 hostage. Only a trickle of emergency trucks has been allowed through two border crossings in the south.

Israel has blamed UN agencies for growing hunger in Gaza, saying they are failing to distribute supplies piling up at Gaza border crossings. UNRWA, the largest UN agency in Gazasays Israel is restricting certain goods and imposing burdensome inspections that delay entry.

Also, Distribution within Gaza is paralyzedU.N. officials say convoys are regularly turned back by Israeli forces, the army often denies safe passage during fighting, and aid is snatched from trucks by hungry Palestinians en route to drop-off points.

As the alarm grows, Israel bowed to American and international pressureand says this week it will open border crossings for aid directly into northern Gaza allow sea shipments.

Despair in the north

Conditions in the north, which were largely under Israeli control for months, have become desperate. Entire districts of Gaza City and surrounding areas have been reduced to rubble by Israeli forces. Yet hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain.

Meat, milk, vegetables and fruit are virtually impossible to find, according to several residents who spoke to the AP. The few items in the shops are random and sold at extremely high prices – mainly nuts, snacks and spices. People have been taking barrels of chocolate from bakeries and selling small smears of it.

Most people eat weed that grows on vacant lots and is known as ‘khubaiza’. Fatima Shaheen, a 70-year-old who lives with her two sons and their children in northern Gaza, says cooked khubaiza is her main meal, and her family has also ground food intended for rabbits to use as flour.

“We’re dying for a piece of bread,” Shaheen said.

Qamar Ahmed said his 18-month-old daughter Mira mainly eats cooked weeds. “There is no food that suits her age,” says Ahmed, researcher at Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor and economic journalist. His 70-year-old father feeds his own food to Ahmed’s young son, Oleyan. “We try to get him to eat, but he refuses,” Ahmed said of his father.

Mahmoud Shalaby, who lives in the Jabaliya refugee camp, said he saw a man in the market give a bag of chips to his two sons and tell them to save them for breakfast and lunch. “Everyone knows I lost weight,” said Shalaby, senior program manager of the Medical Aid for Palestinians aid group in northern Gaza.

Dr. Husam Abu Safiya, acting head of Kamal Adwan Hospital, told the AP that his staff currently treats 300 to 400 children a day, and that 75% of them suffer from malnutrition.

Recent airdrops of aid by the U.S. and other countries yield much lower amounts of aid than truck deliveries, which have become rare and sometimes dangerous. UNRWA says Israeli authorities have not allowed the country to deliver supplies to the north since January 23. The World Food Organization, which had halted deliveries over security concerns, said the army had forced its first northbound convoy to turn back in two weeks. Tuesday.

When the Israeli army organized a food delivery in Gaza City last week, troops guarding the convoy opened fire – based on a perceived threat, the army says – as thousands of hungry Palestinians stormed the trucks. About 120 people were killed in the shooting, but also from being trampled in the chaos.

DETERIORING SOUTH

Yazan al-Kafarna, 10, died Monday after nearly a week of failed treatment in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah. Photos of the boy showed him extremely emaciated, with twig-like limbs and sunken eyes in a face that had shriveled down to his skull.

Al-Kafarna was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological condition that affects motor skills and can make swallowing and eating difficult. His parents said they had struggled to find food for him to eat, including soft fruits and eggs, since fleeing their home in the north.

He died due to extreme muscle wasting, mainly caused by lack of food, according to Dr. Jabr al-Shair, head of the pediatric emergency department at Abu Youssef Najjar Hospital.

On a recent day, about 80 malnourished children crowded the hospital wards. Aya al-Fayoume, a 19-year-old mother displaced to Rafah, brought her three-month-old daughter Nisreen, who has lost enormous amounts of weight over the winter months and suffers from persistent diarrhea and vomiting. On her diet of mainly canned goods, al-Fayoume said she does not produce enough breast milk for Nisreen.

“Everything I need is expensive or unavailable,” she said.

Fresh food supplies in Rafah have dwindled, while the population has grown to more than 1 million, with residents displaced. The main thing available is canned goods, which are often found in relief packs.

At the Emirati Hospital, Dr. Ahmed al-Shair, deputy head of the nursery, said the recent deaths of premature babies were due to malnutrition among mothers. Malnutrition and extreme stress are both factors causing premature, underweight births, and doctors say the number of cases increased during the war, although the UN does not have statistics.

Al-Shair said that premature babies are treated for several days to improve their weight. But then they are released home, which is often a tent with not enough heat, where the mothers are too malnourished to breastfeed and milk is difficult to come by. Parents sometimes give newborns plain water, which is often unclean and causes diarrhea.

Within days, the babies “are returned to us in a terrible condition. Some were already brought to death,” al-Shair said. He said 14 babies at the hospital died in February and two more in March.

Currently, the hospital’s wards have 44 babies under 10 days old weighing just 2 kilograms (4 pounds), some on life support. Each incubator contains at least three premature babies, which increases the risk of infection. Al-Shair said he fears some will suffer the same fate when they return home.

“We are dealing with them now, but God knows what the future will be,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Sam Magdy and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

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