A third of children under 2 in north Gaza are acutely malnourished, UN says


The main United Nations aid agency operating in Gaza said on Saturday that acute malnutrition was accelerating in the north of the Palestinian enclave, while Israel prepared to send a delegation to Qatar for new ceasefire talks on a hostage deal with Hamas militants.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said one-third of children under the age of two in northern Gaza are now acutely malnourished, putting more pressure on Israel over the looming famine.

Israel said on Friday it would send a delegation to Qatar for more talks with mediators after its enemy, Hamas, presented a new proposal for a ceasefire with an exchange of hostages and prisoners.

The delegation will be led by the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, David Barnea, a source familiar with the talks said, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to convene the security cabinet to discuss the proposal before the talks start. Netanyahu’s office has said the Hamas offer was based on “unrealistic demands.”

Efforts failed repeatedly to secure a temporary ceasefire before Islam’s holy month of Ramadan started a week ago, with Israel saying it plans to launch a new offensive in Rafah, the last relatively safe city in Gaza after five months of war.

WATCH | Gaza couple finds no reason to celebrate Ramadan this year:

Nothing about Ramadan to celebrate for this couple in Gaza

As Abu Mustafa Naji and his wife break their daily fast for Ramadan, they have nothing but a pile of rubble to sit on and a memory of their house that no longer stands. For them, it is Ramadan in name only, as the war across Gaza between Israel and Hamas has left no spirit of celebration or generosity in its wake.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is starting a two-day visit to the region, voiced concern about an assault on Rafah, saying there was a danger it would result “in many terrible civilian casualties.” More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now sheltering in the southern city.

On Friday, Netanyahu’s office said he had approved an attack plan on Rafah, and that the civilian population would be evacuated. It gave no time frame, and there was no immediate evidence of extra preparations on the ground.

The Hamas offer, reviewed by Reuters, foresees dozens of Israeli hostages freed in return for hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, during a weeks-long ceasefire that would let more aid into Gaza. Hamas also called for talks at a later stage on ending the war, but Israel has said it is only willing to negotiate a temporary truce.

Families of Israeli hostages and their supporters again gathered in Tel Aviv, urging a deal for their release.

An aerial view shows protesters carrying flags and signs blocking a road while smoke rises.
Relatives and supporters of Israeli hostages held in Gaza block a road in Tel Aviv on Saturday during a rally calling for their release. (Ohad Zwigenberg/The Associated Press)

At the same time, anti-government protesters, estimated by Israeli media at a few thousand, called for new elections and blocked streets in Tel Aviv.

The conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas sent fighters into Israel, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 252 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel’s ground and air campaign has killed more than 31,500 people, mostly women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

People survey the rubble of a destroyed building.
People search the rubble of a home destroyed by overnight Israeli bombardment near the Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza, on Saturday. (AFP/Getty Images)

The assault has also devastated the enclave’s built environment, forcing nearly all of the inhabitants from their homes, leaving much of the territory in rubble and triggering a massive hunger crisis that has alarmed even Israel’s allies.

“Children’s malnutrition is spreading fast and reaching unprecedented levels in Gaza,” UNRWA said in a social media post. Hospitals in Gaza have reported some children dying of malnutrition and dehydration.

Western countries have called on Israel to do more to allow in aid, with the UN saying it faced “overwhelming obstacles,” including crossing closures, onerous vetting, restrictions on movement and unrest inside Gaza.

WATCH | Israeli restrictions push Gaza to the brink of famine:

Israeli restrictions push Gaza to the verge of famine

WARNING: Video contains graphic images | Humanitarian groups say Israeli restrictions on food aid coming into Gaza have put the territory on the verge of a famine, making the Palestinian people even more desperate for any source of food or water.

Israel says it puts no limit on humanitarian aid for civilians in Gaza and blames slow aid delivery on incapacity or inefficiency among UN agencies.

Air and sea relief deliveries into Gaza have started.

A first delivery into Gaza by the World Central Kitchen charity, pioneering a new sea route via Cyprus, arrived on Friday and was off-loaded, the charity said. The United States and Jordan said they carried out an air drop on Saturday.

WATCH | World Central Kitchen aid ship arrives in Gaza:

A boat full of aid and supplies has landed on Gaza shores for the first time since the latest war began. It is a pittance of what is needed by the desperate population of the territory because not enough aid is being allowed in.

On Saturday, a second cargo of food aid was ready to depart by sea from Cyprus, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said.

In a CNN interview, Queen Rania of Jordan called the airdrops “literally just drops in the ocean of unmet needs” and accused Israel of “cutting off everything that is required to sustain a human life: food, fuel, medicine, water.”

During a a stop in Bahrain, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa efforts to secure a ceasefire of at least six weeks, as well as their commitment to free passage in the Red Sea amid attacks on shipping by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, the U.S. State Department said.

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