Unrwa suspends aid deliveries to northern Gaza amid increasing reports of famine

Dozens reportedly killed in Gaza by overnight Israeli strikes as fears deepen for civilians in territory

The United Nations (UN) agency in charge of Palestinian affairs said it has been forced to pause aid deliveries to northern Gaza – where it is not “possible to conduct proper humanitarian operations” – amid increasing reports of famine among people in the area.

The UN began warning of “pockets of famine” in Gaza last month, with needs particularly acute in the north. Conditions have steadily worsened since, causing a spike in hungry people making fraught attempts to claim aid from passing trucks.

“The desperate behaviour of hungry and exhausted people is preventing the safe and regular passage of our trucks,” said Tamara Alrifai, director of external relations for the UN Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa). She added that she was “very wary of how to explain this so as not to make it sound like we are blaming people or describing these things as criminal acts”.

“But we want to say that their stopping our trucks to help themselves is no longer making it possible to conduct proper humanitarian operations,” Alrifai said.


Unrwa has not been granted permits by the Israeli authorities to deliver aid to northern Gaza for more than a month, while humanitarian organisations have increasingly despaired at the tiny trickle of aid permitted into Gaza.

The agency has also warned that it could be forced to cease operations across the Middle East in the coming weeks amid a funding crisis, while Israeli politicians including the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, have demanded that Unrwa cease operations and that other UN agencies assume the same work.

Before October 7th last year, when Hamas militants stormed towns and kibbutzim around the Gaza Strip, killing an estimated 1,139 people and taking about 250 people hostage, an average of 500 trucks of aid were permitted by the Israeli authorities to enter the enclave each day. But amid a fierce campaign of Israeli bombardment, the supply of aid permitted into Gaza has dwindled, with sometimes as little as a few dozen trucks allowed in.

The UN has warned that famine risks taking hold across Gaza, particularly in the north. Aid convoys that enter Gaza from the southernmost city of Rafah pass areas where an estimated 1.5 million people are seeking shelter after being forced south by Israeli forces, and have grown increasingly desperate due to the lack of food.

“We are stuck in a vicious cycle, where the security of our convoys are at risk, meaning we can no longer send aid, which contributes to hunger and despair,” said Alrifai.

Since Israeli ground forces encircled Gaza City last November and demanded that civilians flee south, aid deliveries to the north have become increasingly difficult for humanitarian groups.

Earlier this week, the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had been forced to pause aid deliveries to northern Gaza due to “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order”, after an initial suspension three weeks earlier when a strike hit an Unrwa truck carrying aid.

When the WFP attempted to resume deliveries, it said its convoys were fired upon, that crowds of people attempted to take goods from the trucks, and that one of its drivers was beaten.

“People are already dying from hunger-related causes,” they warned.

Unrwa said earlier this month that a strike on its food convoy came from Israeli naval forces as it waited to move into northern Gaza. The organisation shared pictures of a truck with a gaping hole in its side.

WFP officials warned in the same statement that only four of its convoys – 35 trucks – had managed to reach northern Gaza last month, enough food for about 130,000 people.

Matthew Hollingworth, head of the WFP in Gaza, said this amount of aid was “not enough to prevent a famine and we know levels of hunger in Gaza are getting at that level now”.

Meanwhile, Israeli strikes reportedly killed scores of people overnight across Gaza as Brazil’s president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has claimed Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians.

According to the latest figures from the Gaza ministry for health, which is run by Hamas, 92 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours.

The ministry said at least 29,606 Palestinians have been killed and 69,737 have been injured since the start of the conflict on October 7th.

The ministry’s death toll does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but it has said two-thirds of those killed were children and women. Israel says its troops have killed more than 10,000 Hamas fighters.

Lula stirred controversy last week by comparing Israel’s military offensive in Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust.

Lula wrote that he would not give up his “dignity for falsehood”, an apparent reference to calls for him to retract his comparison to the Holocaust, in which six million Jews died during the second World War.

“What the Israeli government is doing is not war, it is genocide,” he wrote on Saturday. “Children and women are being murdered.”

In response to his initial comments, Israel had declared him a persona non grata, summoned Brazil’s ambassador and demanded an apology. In retaliation, he recalled Brazil’s ambassador to Israel for consultations.

Israel has rejected genocide claims, saying its war is targeting the militant group Hamas, not the Palestinian people. It holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths, arguing that the group operates from civilian areas.

Truce talks were under way in Paris on Friday, in what appears to be the most serious push for weeks to halt the fighting in the battered Palestinian enclave and see Israeli and foreign hostages released.

A source briefed on the ceasefire talks, who could not be identified by name or nationality, said talks had begun with Israel’s head of the Mossad intelligence service meeting separately with each party – Qatar, Egypt and United States.

The Paris negotiations come after a plan for a postwar Gaza unveiled by the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu drew criticism from key ally the United States and was rejected by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas on Friday.

Netanyahu’s first official “day after” plan for the Gaza Strip once the war ends included Israel keeping security control over Palestinian areas and making reconstruction dependent on demilitarisation.

The plan underlines Netanyahu’s resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state which he sees as a security threat, without explicitly ruling one out at some future stage. – Agencies