Qatar accuses Israel of deliberately starving Palestinians in Gaza

As aid convoys face disruption by Israeli forces, deputy chief of UN humanitarian agency says a quarter of the population are ‘one step away from famine’

Qatar accused Israel on Wednesday of deliberately starving Palestinians in Gaza and called on the international community to put more pressure on Israel to facilitate deliveries of aid without restrictions.

Qatari foreign ministry spokesman Majed al-Ansari said aid provided to Gaza “is a very small part of what the residents of the strip need. There are 2.3 million people living in the complete absence of health and emergency services. More than one million live in tents in the south of the strip”.

On Tuesday Ramesh Rajasingham, deputy chief of the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told the Security Council that at least 576,000 people in Gaza – a quarter of the population – were “one step away from famine”.

He said nearly 17 per cent of toddlers in northern Gaza were afflicted by acute malnutrition and wasting and all Gazans relied on “woefully inadequate” food aid to survive. If nothing was done, he warned, there would be “many more victims” than the 30,000 war fatalities reported by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.


“To get a bare minimum of supplies into Gaza,” Mr Rajasingham said, aid agencies faced intrusive Israeli inspections, crossing closures, lack of communications, restricted freedom of movement, unrest, unexploded ordnance and ravaged roads.

An OCHA spokesman, Jens Laerke, said aid convoys were fired upon and humanitarian workers faced harassment, intimidation and detention by Israeli forces.

Speaking to the US news network CNN on Tuesday from Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, Norwegian Refugee Council head Jan Egeland said: “In my many, many years as an aid worker, I have never seen a place which has been so bombarded for such a long time with such a trapped population, without any escape. People are traumatised beyond belief.”

Asked about aeroplanes dropping small quantities of aid by parachute, he said there could be a much better way to deliver aid and “it’s up to Israel with the United States and Egypt to fix it”. Air drops were a a “last resort”, he said.

“The solution is to get the Rafah crossing [from Egypt] and Kerem Shalom [from Israel] to work to capacity,” Mr Egeland said. While 500 lorry loads of goods used to reach Gaza before the war through Kerem Shalom, he now saw only “a handful of trucks” waiting to cross while there were long lines in Egypt outside Rafah. He added aid deliveries were chaotic because “there is so little aid coming in”.

On Tuesday, two C130 military transport aircraft from Jordan, and one each from the Emirates, Egypt and France flew low along the Gaza coast and dropped parcels containing hygiene kits and high nutrition ready-to-aid meals. Satellite television news showed desperate Palestinian youths rushing into the sea to retrieve parcels. A sixth Jordanian plane parachuted medical and fuel supplies to the kingdom’s field hospital near Rafah.

Jordan began air drops in November to supply its hospital but has expanded the effort, which has also been joined by the Netherlands and Britain. Four C-130s carry about 50 tonnes in total. This is far short of the 950 tonnes the World Food Programme has said would feed 488,000 people for a week.

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Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times