Communications blackout and spiralling hunger compound misery in Gaza

World Food Programme says half of the 2.3 million population is starving

A Palestinian mother and her children walk out of the Jenin camp as a raid on the refugee camp enters a third consecutive day. EPA
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A prolonged communications blackout that severed telephone and internet connections compounded the misery on Saturday in Gaza, where a UN agency said hunger levels have spiralled.

Internet and phone lines went down on Thursday evening and were still inaccessible on Saturday morning, according to internet access advocacy group

The outage hampered aid deliveries and rescue efforts as the war stretched into the 11th week.

“The internet blackout is ongoing, and based on our records it is the longest such incident” in the over-two-month war, said Alp Toker,'s director.

The UN's humanitarian affairs department said communications with Gaza were “severely disrupted” due to damage to telecommunications lines in the south.

The war has flattened much of northern Gaza and driven 85 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million from their homes.

Displaced people have squeezed into shelters mainly in the south in a spiralling humanitarian crisis.

The US, Israel’s closest ally, has expressed unease over its failure to reduce civilian casualties and its plans for the future of Gaza, but the White House continues to offer support with weapons shipments and diplomatic backing.

Meanwhile, dozens of Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Saturday in Israeli air strikes, Palestinian media reported.

At least 14 people died in strikes that hit two houses on Old Gaza Street in Jabaliya and dozens more were killed in a separate strike that hit another home in Jabaliya, according to the official Palestinian Wafa news agency.

The agency also reported that a large number of civilians were trapped under rubble.

With civilian casualties mounting, the Palestine Red Crescent said three days of communication blackout in Gaza posed “significant challenges” for their team trying to reach the wounded and patients.

People have been unable to call the 101 emergency service as Israel’s bombardment and ground offensive in the south intensified.

Unable to reach loved ones

Soha Ammar, who lives in Gaza and uses a digital eSIM to access the internet despite the power outage, told The National the Israeli army is trying to hide its crimes from the world.

“But we are overcoming their actions and we will keep posting what is happening in Gaza and let the world see the violence of this immoral army,” she said.

Palestinians who live outside Gaza said they are worried because they cannot contact their relatives inside the enclave.

“I feel suffocated because I don't know about my family,” Nihaya Khader, who lives in the US, told The National.

Nihaya’s family members are still in Gaza city and haven’t relocated to the south.

“I start my day by calling my family and being sure they are OK. Now, I feel like my life is paralysed as I can’t reach them.” Nihaya added.

“For the fifth time, the army has deliberately cut off communications from the Gaza Strip since the start of the war,” the media office in Gaza said in a statement.

Without food

As the war rages, several international aid agencies have warned of a looming hunger crisis in Gaza.

The UN World Food Programme has said half of Gaza's population is starving as Israel's military assault on the south expands and cuts people off from supplies.

The head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency said on Thursday that crowds of hungry people were stopping its aid lorries in Gaza, making it almost impossible to continue delivering aid.

“Hunger has emerged over the last few weeks and we meet more and more people who haven't eaten for one, two or three days,” Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA's Commissioner General, told reporters at the Global Refugee Forum in Geneva.

Several videos on social media show families and children queuing up for food and in some cases returning with empty pots.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) also warned of a “real and unprecedented famine” in the Gaza Strip, which began in northern Gaza and Gaza city.

Displaced Gazans paint a picture of their daily struggles

Displaced Gazans paint a picture of their daily struggles

“The situation monitored by our teams confirms that tens of thousands of families in the Gaza Strip spend their entire day and several days without a meal and that they share crumbs of the little that’s available, due to the lack of distribution of the already limited humanitarian aid entering Gaza,” the PCHR said in a statement.

Most of the humanitarian aid has been concentrated in Rafah, since the start of the Israeli ground invasion in Khan Younis.

With only a trickle of aid able to enter and distribution disrupted by fighting, the UN’s World Food Programme reported that the percentage of displaced households experiencing severe hunger jumped to 56 per cent from 38 per cent in under two weeks.

In the north, where aid has been unable to enter, “households … are expected to face a catastrophic situation,” the WFP said.

Updated: December 16, 2023, 2:41 PM