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UK Middle East minister warns Gaza on ‘brink of famine’

Lord Ahmad says he was shocked by attacks by Israeli civilians on Jordanian aid trying to enter Gaza through the Erez crossing
Palestinians in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza prepare food on 13 May (AFP)
Palestinians in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza prepare food on 13 May (AFP)

The UK’s minister for the Middle East and North Africa said on Tuesday it is clear that Gaza is on the “brink of famine”.

Answering questions from the UK parliament’s foreign affairs select committee, Lord Tariq Ahmad also said there is malnutrition in Gaza. "Evidence of that is very clear,” he said.

After the 7 October Hamas-led attack on southern Israeli communities, Israel stopped all essential supplies from entering the Gaza Strip.

However, following pressure from Israel's western allies, limited amounts of food, medicines and other crucial supplies have been allowed to pass into the Palestinian enclave. 

On 6 May, Israeli forces seized the Rafah crossing that links southern Gaza with Egypt, and only five aid trucks have entered since. Aid workers say 500 trucks are needed each day to meet the needs of the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza.

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Sources in southern and central Gaza told Middle East Eye there is less than a week of food left for the Palestinians there.

“We shouldn’t wait for famine to occur, we should act and act now,” Ahmad said.

Some western countries, as well as Arab states that have diplomatic relations with Israel, have been carrying out air drops of food and other supplies over Gaza.

However, these deliveries come with risks, as Palestinians have died after being struck by them and have also died trying to retrieve aid that has fallen into the sea or on damaged buildings. Deliveries by air are also far smaller than those by land.

Attacks on aid

Ahmad said that land crossings should be the main method of delivering aid to Palestinians facing starvation in Gaza.

However, those routes are controlled entirely by Israel, and aid being carried through has frequently been attacked by Israeli civilians.

“It’s the land routes that make the difference,” Ahmad said, adding: “It was shocking to see trucks going in from Israel through Erez [crossing] were attacked in Israel.”

Foreign Secretary David Cameron has staunchly defended Israel's actions in Gaza but has also acknowledged that there was “no clean bill of health on Israel”.

Israel attacked aid workers despite knowing their locations, report says
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Ahmad echoed these sentiments, but refused to be drawn into questions about whether Israel was using starvation as a weapon of war, which were put to him by Scottish National Party MP Brendan O'Hara.

“That’s not the judgement this government has drawn,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad reiterated that Israel, nevertheless, had a responsibility for the situation in Gaza as its occupying power under the Geneva Convention:

“They need to ensure that the food, the medicine, the support and the humanitarian aid that’s needed, gets in and gets in now.”

More than 35,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them women and children, have been killed by Israel in its war on Gaza. An estimated 10,000 are missing under the rubble and presumed dead, according to the Palestinian civil defence.

In March, the number of Palestinians who had died of starvation was at least 28 and that number is believed to have increased since.

The decision to prevent food from entering Gaza was made at the very top of the Israeli government.

On 9 October, two days after the Hamas-led attack, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said: "I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.”

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