World

Food aid reaches north Gaza for first time in weeks, Israeli officials say

The increasing alarm about hunger across Gaza has fuelled international calls for a ceasefire.

A Palestinian woman prays for a relative killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Monday (Hatem Ali/AP)
Israel Palestinians A Palestinian woman prays for a relative killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Monday (Hatem Ali/AP) (Hatem Ali/AP)

Aid convoys carrying food reached northern Gaza this week, Israeli officials said on Wednesday, the first major delivery in a month to the devastated, isolated area, where the UN has warned of worsening starvation among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians amid Israel’s offensive.

The increasing alarm about hunger across Gaza has fuelled international calls for a ceasefire as the US, Egypt and Qatar work to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas for a pause in fighting and the release of some of the hostages seized by Hamas in its October 7 attack.

Mediators hope to reach an agreement before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan starts on about March 10. But so far, Israel and Hamas have remained far apart in public on their demands.

Increasing the pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal, families of hostages on Wednesday launched a four-day march from southern Israel to Jerusalem to demand their loved ones be set free.

Families of hostages held in the Gaza Strip march in southern Israel (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Israel Palestinians Families of hostages held in the Gaza Strip march in southern Israel (Tsafrir Abayov/AP) (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Some of the approximately 100 hostages freed during a ceasefire in late November are joining the march, which is to end near Mr Netanyahu’s official residence.

The plight of the hostages has deeply shaken Israelis, who see in them an enduring symbol of the state’s failure to protect its citizens from Hamas’ assault.

The Palestinian militant group abducted roughly 250 people, according to Israeli authorities, including men, women, children and older adults.

After the November releases, some 130 hostages remain, and Israel says about a quarter of them are dead.

Israel’s assault on Gaza, which it says aims to destroy Hamas after its attack, has killed more than 29,900 Palestinians.

UN officials warn of further mass casualties if it follows through on vows to attack the southernmost city of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge.

They also say a Rafah offensive could collapse the aid operation that has already been crippled in the fighting.

Across Gaza, more than 576,000 people, a quarter of the population, are a step away from famine, the UN says.

The destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP)
Israel Palestinians The destruction after an Israeli strike on residential buildings and a mosque in Rafah (Fatima Shbair/AP) (Fatima Shbair/AP)

But northern Gaza in particular has been gutted by hunger. The north has largely been cut off and much of it has been levelled since Israeli ground troops invaded in late October.

Several hundred thousand Palestinians are believed to remain there, and many have been reduced to eating animal fodder to survive.

The UN says one in six children under two in the north suffer from acute malnutrition and wasting.

A convoy of 31 trucks carrying food entered northern Gaza on Wednesday, the Israeli military office that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs said.

The office, known by the acronym COGAT, said nearly 20 other lorries entered the north on Monday and Tuesday.

Associated Press footage showed people carrying sacks of flour from the distribution site.

It was not immediately clear who carried out the deliveries. The UN was not involved, said a spokesman for the UN’s humanitarian co-ordination office, Eri Keneko.

A tent camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli offensive in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP)
Israel Palestinians A tent camp housing Palestinians displaced by the Israeli offensive in Rafah (Hatem Ali/AP) (Hatem Ali/AP)

As of Sunday, the UN had been unable to deliver food to northern Gaza since January 23, according to Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees that has led the aid effort.

Since launching its assault on Gaza Israel has barred entry of food, water, medicine and other supplies except for a trickle of aid entering the south from Egypt at the Rafah crossing and Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing.

Despite international calls to allow in more aid, the number of supply trucks entering has dropped dramatically in recent weeks.

COGAT said on Wednesday that Israel does not impose limits on the amount of aid entering, blaming UN agencies and aid groups for the bottleneck.

The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll from Israel’s offensive had risen to 29,954 people, with 70,325 wounded. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but it says two-thirds of the dead were children and women.

In its attack on southern Israel on October 7, Hamas and other Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians.