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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Amid Cease-Fire Talk, Israel's Siege Still Causing Child Starvation in Gaza

"Blocking humanitarian aid and creating the conditions for famine is not only an act of extreme cruelty—using starvation as an act of war," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said. "It is a war crime."

Image via the Palestinian People's Party

By Edward Carver, Common Dreams

The United Nations relief agency for Palestinians said Thursday that Israeli authorities continue to hinder aid efforts by failing to approve requests for delivery and permits, as two other U.N. agencies separately issued dire warnings about large-scale starvation in Gaza this week.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said Israel has frequently denied the agency's aid-related requests, The Guardian reported. The World Health Organization said Thursday that there have been 32 cases of deaths from malnutrition in Gaza—mostly of children below five years old—since October 7 and warned of the “catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions” faced by a significant proportion of Gazans.

The WHO statement followed a U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) warning that humanitarian access in southern Gaza had "declined dramatically" and that 3,000 malnourished children there are "at risk of death," having been cut off from life-saving care due to the Israeli military offensive in Rafah.

"Horrific images continue to emerge from Gaza of children dying before their families' eyes due to the continued lack of food, nutrition supplies, and the destruction of healthcare services," Adele Khodr, a UNICEF regional director, said in a statement.

The U.N. Security Council passed a cease-fire resolution on Monday that bolstered the three-phase peace plan of President Joe Biden. Neither Israel nor Hamas has yet publicly accepted the full range of terms outlined in the resolution.

The U.N. agency reports on child starvation came alongside renewed calls for Israel to open humanitarian corridors in Gaza. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in announcing $404 million in new humanitarian relief funds for Palestinians, said on Tuesday that while Israel has taken steps to address "obstacles to the delivery of assistance," it "can and must do more."

Many international agencies and humanitarian groups have gone further in their condemnation of Israeli's aid policy, arguing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government is using starvation as a weapon of war, as Common Dreams has reported.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) echoed that concern on Wednesday on the U.S. Senate floor.

"Blocking humanitarian aid and creating the conditions for famine is not only an act of extreme cruelty—using starvation as an act of war—but it is a violation of both American and international law," he said. It is a war crime."

In January, the International Court of Justice, the U.N.'s top court, ruled that Israel must prevent acts of genocide and "take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have reported that Israel hasn't complied with the ruling, and this week's reports add to the evidence that Israel is noncompliant.

"We are getting very few positive responses to our requests for aid delivery and permits to move around Gaza," Tamara Alrifai, UNRWA's director of external relations, told The Guardian.

Some Israeli officials have accused UNRWA of ties to Hamas and to terrorism, but an independent review led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna found that Israel hadn't provided evidence of the claims.

Israel's hostility to aid workers, more than 200 of whom have been killed in the war, has led to massive disruption to humanitarian efforts. "Israel continues to severely restrict supplies of food, water, medicine, and fuel to the territory," Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.

The problems for the malnourished children in southern Gaza are particularly pronounced.

"Unless treatment can be quickly resumed for these 3,000 children, they are at immediate and serious risk of becoming critically ill, acquiring life-threatening complications, and joining the growing list of boys and girls who have been killed by this senseless, man-made deprivation," UNICEF's Khodr said.

Treating malnourished children requires the continuous use of therapeutic food and formula for six to eight weeks, as well as other medical support, according to UNICEF. But with Rafah under siege and insufficient supplies, that's very difficult to provide.

"We need better operating conditions on the ground, with more safety and less restrictions," Khodr said. "But ultimately, it is a cease-fire that children need most."

Edward Carver is a staff writer for Common Dreams.

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