Ramadan brings no relief as war rages in Gaza

AFP || Shining BD

Published: 3/12/2024 7:51:46 AM

The first day of Ramadan on Monday arrived like others for Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza: stalked by famine and disease, shivering in tents and threatened by bombs more than five months into fighting between Israel and Hamas.

As the Muslim world welcomed the holy month and its customary daytime fast, many Gazans faced bombardment that saw residents once more search through the rubble of destroyed homes for survivors and bodies.

A UN report, citing the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, said 25 people have now died from malnutrition and dehydration, most of them children.

"We are running out of time," Cindy McCain, head of the World Food Programme (WFP), said on Monday. "If we do not exponentially increase the size of aid going into the northern areas" of Gaza, she said, "famine is imminent."

The United Nations has reported particular difficulty in accessing northern Gaza for deliveries of food and other aid.

Gazans throughout the territory are feeling shortages even more during Ramadan.

"We don't know what we are going to eat to break the fast," Zaki Abu Mansour, 63, said inside his tent. "I have only a tomato and a cucumber... and I have no money to buy anything."

Any goods that are available are sold at exorbitant prices, residents say.

Fighting raged across Gaza, even as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for "silencing the guns" during the Muslim holy month and said he was "appalled and outraged that conflict is continuing".

Guterres also appealed for removal of "all obstacles" to aid delivery.

- Israeli screening -

With aid entering Gaza by truck far below pre-war levels, and Gazans increasingly desperate, foreign governments have turned to airdrops and are now trying to operate a maritime aid corridor.

Jose Andres said his American charity World Central Kitchen and its partner Open Arms are "ready to sail for Gaza" from Cyprus with food aid on the new maritime corridor which the European Union had hoped could open last Sunday.

"There have been many statements made about the maritime corridor being open, and the timeline," Andres said on social media platform X. "WCK never announced departure dates."

A senior US administration official has said the Cyprus initiative provides a platform at the port of Larnaca for "screening by Israeli officials of Gaza-bound goods".

Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis said "this is an initiative, the complexity of which requires both due care and attention so that the ship can depart and the cargo can safely reach the civilian population of Gaza".

Israel's cumbersome screenings are a major reason current shortages are so glaring, aid workers say.

Israel, however, blames problems on the Palestinian side, saying the "ability of humanitarian organisations within the Gaza Strip to absorb the aid" dictates how much of it is let in.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel's military spokesman, on Monday said a weekend air strike on an underground compound in central Gaza had targeted Marwan Issa, deputy head of Hamas's armed wing.

Results of the strike were still being examined, he said, and it was unclear if Issa was killed.

Hamas authorities reported at least 67 people killed since Sunday, with more than 40 air strikes across the territory.

- Meagre decorations -

Hamas's October 7 attack that started the war resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also took around 250 hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes 99 hostages still in Gaza remain alive and 31 have died.

Israel's retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive has killed 31,112 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The United States and other countries again airdropped aid into northern Gaza on Monday, but outgoing Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said it could be delivered more efficiently via five land borders.

Humanitarian workers have made similar comments.

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a truce and hostage exchange deal ahead of Ramadan.

Despite widespread deprivation, some Gazans found ways to celebrate Ramadan's start, fashioning meagre decorations and distributing traditional lanterns between their tents.

In Rafah, dozens of Gazans offered prayers on Ramadan's first day in the ruins of a mosque hit by an Israeli air strike just days ago.

Tens of thousands of worshippers are drawn every Ramadan to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem -- Islam's third holiest site and the most sacred for Jews.

The site has been a flashpoint of tensions in the past and is again a focus.

- A sea of tents -

In Washington, President Joe Biden, facing domestic criticism in an election year for his steadfast support of Israel, said that as Muslims around the world gather to break their fast, "the suffering of the Palestinian people will be front of mind for many. It is front of mind for me."

The United States provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, and Biden's administration has given short shrift to activist calls to cut such funding.

In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's holiest sites, King Salman called in his Ramadan message for "an end to these heinous crimes" in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from desperate families of hostages still held in Gaza as well as critics of his government, a coalition including religious and ultra-nationalist parties.

In an interview with Politico, he reiterated his intention to send troops into Rafah to root out Hamas in Gaza's southernmost tip where around 1.5 million people -- most of Gaza's population -- have tried to find refuge.

"We'll go there," he said, adding that his "red line" is that "October 7 doesn't happen again".

Many of Rafah's displaced are sheltered in a sea of makeshift tents. They sat on the ground between the structures, under a string of decorative lights, to break their fast on the first day of Ramadan.

Shining BD