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UN Accuses Israel of Blocking Aid Amid ‘Severe Famine’ in Northern Gaza

A senior UN official leveled accusations against Israel on Sunday, alleging that it persists in denying humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip. In the northern region of the enclave, home to 2.3 million people, the UN’s food chief raised alarm about an unfolding “full-blown famine.”

Although not officially declared as such, Cindy McCain, the executive director of the World Food Programme, emphasized the dire situation in an NBC News interview aired on Sunday, stating that there is a severe famine in the north that is gradually spreading southward.

According to COGAT, an Israeli Defense Ministry agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries to Palestinian territories, Israel has been intensifying its efforts to bolster aid to Gaza. In discussions between Israeli and UN representatives, including the World Food Programme, COGAT refuted claims of a famine risk in northern Gaza.

Highlighting the improving conditions, COGAT noted that international organizations had suggested reducing the volume of goods transported to northern Gaza, citing an imbalance between the quantities delivered and the population’s needs.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), accused Israel of persistently obstructing UN aid access in Gaza in an attempt to prevent famine.

Lazzarini shared on Sunday that in the past two weeks alone, there have been ten recorded incidents involving attacks on convoys, arrests of UN personnel, including instances of harassment, intimidation, and long delays at checkpoints, forcing convoys to navigate during nighttime or cancel missions.

Additionally, Lazzarini called on Hamas and other armed groups to cease attacks on humanitarian crossings, refrain from diverting aid, and ensure that assistance reaches all those in need. On Sunday, militants claimed responsibility for an attack that resulted in the closure of the main humanitarian aid crossing into Gaza.

Warning of a crisis that is “entirely preventable,” a UN-backed report in March anticipated the imminent threat of famine, particularly in northern Gaza, potentially extending across the entire enclave by July. Famine, as defined, encompasses extreme food shortages affecting at least 20% of the population, with one in three children severely malnourished and a daily death toll of two individuals per 10,000 due to starvation or related illnesses.

UN officials emphasize the urgency of addressing the situation before a formal famine declaration, stressing that delay often results in the loss of many lives. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently remarked that the most vulnerable residents of northern Gaza are already succumbing to hunger and disease.

Throughout the seven-month-long conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza, the UN has raised concerns about limited humanitarian aid access. Guterres underscored the UN’s efforts to prevent what he described as “an entirely preventable, human-made famine” in northern Gaza.

The ongoing tensions have led to closures of key humanitarian crossings, such as the Kerem Shalom crossing, following an attack by Hamas militants. While Israel retaliated, claiming self-defense, the closure further exacerbates the aid crisis in Gaza.

As tensions persist, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans for a significant military operation in Rafah and other parts of Gaza. The proposed incursion, aimed at Hamas militants, poses significant risks to the lives of civilians and aid operations, according to the UN humanitarian office.

Amidst the bleak prospects for a Gaza ceasefire, both sides remain entrenched in their positions, blaming each other for the deadlock.

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