Israel to attend new ceasefire talks as UN says Gaza hunger crisis worsens

By Thomson Reuters Mar 16, 2024 | 10:58 AM

DOHA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -The main U.N. aid agency operating in Gaza said on Saturday that acute malnutrition is rising more quickly in the north of the enclave as Israel prepared to send a delegation to Qatar for new ceasefire talks.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said one in three children under the age of 2 in northern Gaza is now acutely malnourished amid growing pressure on Israel over looming famine in the embattled enclave.

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.

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

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”.

The conflict began on Oct. 7 when Hamas sent fighters into Israel, killing 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.

The assault has also devastated the enclave’s built environment, forcing nearly all 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.

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

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

Air and sea relief deliveries into Gaza have started, but aid agencies say these are no substitute for bringing in supplies by land.

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

(Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; writing by Angus McDowall; editing by Alexandra Hudson)