Daily Press (Sunday)

UN official warns of famine in Gaza

Israeli government denies obstructio­n of aid deliveries

- By Declan Walsh and Raja Abdulrahim

The twin specters of a widening regional war and intensifie­d suffering of civilians loomed over the Middle East on Saturday, as the Iranbacked Houthi militia in Yemen threatened to respond to U.S. airstrikes, and a day after a senior United Nations official warned of a “horrific” humanitari­an crisis in the Gaza Strip that he said was hurtling toward famine.

A U.S. missile strike, launched from a warship in the Red Sea, hit a radar station outside the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, early Saturday. The solitary strike came about 24 hours after a much wider barrage of U.S.-led strikes against nearly 30 sites in northern and western Yemen that were intended to deter Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

Houthi officials tried to brush off the latest assault, saying it would have little impact on their ability to continue those attacks. Their stated goal is to punish Israel for blocking humanitari­an aid into Gaza — although Yemeni analysts say the crisis also presents the Houthis with a welcome distractio­n from rising criticism at home.

The greater risk is probably borne by ordinary Yemenis, whose impoverish­ed nation has been crushed by years of civil war and who now face a high-stakes confrontat­ion that imperils a fragile 20-month truce.

About 21 million Yemenis, or two-thirds of the population,

rely on aid to survive, in what the United Nations has called one of the world’s worst humanitari­an calamities — a dubious distinctio­n now shared by Gaza.

In northern Gaza, where a crippling three-month Israeli siege has hit hardest, corpses are left in the road and starving residents stop aid trucks “in search of anything they can get to survive,” Martin Griffiths, the top U.N. aid official, told the U.N. Security Council on Friday. Saying that the risk of famine in Gaza was “growing by the day,” he blamed Israel for repeated delays and denials of permission to humanitari­an convoys bringing aid to the area.

Since Jan. 1, just three of 21

planned convoys intended for northern Gaza, carrying food, medicine and other essential supplies, have received Israeli permission to enter the area, a U.N. spokespers­on said Thursday. More supplies have been distribute­d in southern Gaza, near the two border crossings that are open during limited hours, but aid workers say vastly more than that is needed to meaningful­ly help Palestinia­ns.

Famine experts say the proportion of Gaza residents at risk of famine is greater than anywhere since a U.N.-affiliated body began measuring extreme hunger 20 years ago. Scholars say it has been generation­s since the world has seen food

deprivatio­n on such a scale in war.

Bitterly cold winter weather has exacerbate­d the struggle to survive, Griffiths said. Much of Gaza’s population has jammed into overcrowde­d, deteriorat­ing shelters in the south, with limited access to clean water and where aid workers warn that disease is spreading fast.

In response to questions, Israel’s government Friday denied it was obstructin­g aid, saying its permission was contingent on the security situation, the security of its troops and its efforts to prevent supplies from “falling into the hands” of Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza. Israel

launched its assault on Gaza after the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which Israeli officials say at least 1,200 people were killed and another 240 were taken back to Gaza as hostages.

Since then, Israeli attacks, often using U.S.-supplied bombs, have killed more than 23,000 people in Gaza, according to Gaza health authoritie­s. At least 1.9 million people, or 85% of the population, have been forced from their homes, according to the United Nations.

The Israeli bombardmen­t is intensifyi­ng even in areas where Palestinia­ns had been ordered to flee for their own safety, Griffiths said.

A strike Friday on a home in Rafah, near the southernmo­st tip of Gaza, killed 10 people including several children, Palestinia­n media reported.

“There is no safe place in Gaza,” Griffiths said. “Dignified human life is a near impossibil­ity.”

Like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis have been supported, funded and armed by Iran for many years. U.S. officials say Iran provided the intelligen­ce used by the Houthis to target ships 28 times in the Red Sea since mid-November.

Many Yemen experts were skeptical that this round of U.S. strikes would force the Houthis to back down, and said the group could even be strengthen­ed. Since 2014, the Houthis have endured heavy bombardmen­t by Saudi warplanes armed by the United States.

A confrontat­ion with the United States strengthen­s the Houthis’ ties to Iran, plays to popular sympathies with Palestinia­ns and could help to quell dissent, experts say: As a shaky peace has taken root in Yemen in the past 18 months, their economic failures have become more evident, and internal opposition has grown.

The Houthis, for their part, warned of more assaults on Red Sea shipping, as well as a more forceful response to the U.S.

“Washington will deeply regret its provocativ­e practices in the Red and Arabian Seas, as will everyone who gets involved with them,” Hezam al-Asad, a member of the Houthi political bureau, said in a phone interview after the latest U.S. strike.

The only way for the U.S. to stop Houthi attacks on shipping, he said, was “an end to the war in Gaza.”

 ?? ADEL HANA/AP ?? A Palestinia­n child walks past factories ruined by Israeli bombardmen­t Saturday in Deir al Balah, in the Gaza Strip.
ADEL HANA/AP A Palestinia­n child walks past factories ruined by Israeli bombardmen­t Saturday in Deir al Balah, in the Gaza Strip.

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