Gazans face starvation and bitter cold in camps as Israel delays aid lorries

US officials describe 'arbitrary' inspections of trucks in Rafah as famine looms for cold Palestinians

Palestinians line up for free food during the ongoing Israeli air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip in Rafah. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Hungry and in squalid conditions, refugees in Gaza's overcrowded camps have told The National that they face starvation and have hardly received any aid.

Around 85 per cent of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been displaced from their homes since the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war in October.

Last week, UN Humanitarian Coordinator Martin Griffiths said a famine crisis in Gaza was “around the corner”, while on Sunday, two US senators visited Rafah, where they saw “hundreds” of aid lorries delayed by what they called “arbitrary” Israeli inspections.

Haneen Ibraheem, 35, fled to Rafah from Gaza city and has two children. She is struggling in the harsh winter weather as the camps suffer downpours and flooding, with water seeping into tents and makeshift shelters.

“It is so cold, I do my best to warm my children but even so my children keep telling me that they are feeling cold,” she told The National.

“Also, we got sick from the pollution, where you can’t be sure of the cleanness around you. We have canned food, but even still we get sick all the time,” Haneen added.

The UN has sent winter blankets to the sprawling camps in places like Al Mawasi, a supposed safe zone that is windswept and barren, but UN staff say only a fraction reaches civilians.

Amid this trauma, no part of the strip has been safe from Israeli bombardments.

According to the UN, approximately half of the population of the Gaza strip is now living in Rafah – about one million people in a city that was home to about 280,000 beforehand.

Many Palestinians in the crowded city are struggling to find shelter for the winter. There is no space left and many residents are in a state of despair.

“There are families consisting of six members who receive one can of beans and two bottles of water every three days, and we see hunger spreading in every street, and people are looking for a loaf of bread,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

“The humanitarian aid reaching Gaza is not enough to meet 5 per cent of the population’s needs,” he added.

Ahmed Abu Aouda, 43, who has also fled to Rafah, is staying in a tent with his family.

He left Gaza city and went to Khan Younis, a city that has become the new focal point of Israel’s military campaign. Like Rafah, its population has swollen with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced from the north of the Gaza Strip.

When the shelling intensified, Ahmed left Khan Younis and went to Rafah, staying in an open area near the heavily militarised Egyptian border.

“The situation is very difficult. The tent we are living in is made of nylon and is not prepared well for the rain and the extreme cold,” Ahmed told The National.

“There's the constant sound of nylon which the wind is disturbing, and the ground is sandy and with the rain, turned muddy,” he added.

Ahmed said that even maintaining the tent where his family lives has become unaffordable. Just to get sandbags to protect the tent cost him 800 Israeli shekels ($215).

“God knows how we managed to afford building the tent,” he said.

More than 1% of Gaza's population has been killed

More than 1% of Gaza's population has been killed

Another displaced Gazan said she has fled to the sprawling refugee camp in Al Mawasi, where she is staying in a tent built by her sons.

“I spend the night just praying to God to not bring the rain, the rain supposed to be a good for the humanity and for the ground."

“Before we used to pray for God to bring rain but with our current situation we are afraid of the rain,” Um Ali Hassouna, 42, told The National.

She said she was ill, and her conditions had worsened because of the cold.

“My sons do their best to keep me warm all the time, by lighting the charcoal which is not healthy also because sometimes I feel suffocated,” she said.

Aid organisations have struggled to deliver sufficient aid to Palestinians to survive the bleak conditions.

Ahmed said he had received just three blankets and two mattresses from UNWRA, to be shared among nine people inside his tent.

“When we left Gaza [city] it was summer so we didn't bring warm clothes or blankets, and now if those things are available it is so expensive,” he said.

“It is very cold and I spent all the time just trying to make my children warm,” he said.

Updated: January 09, 2024, 1:29 PM