‘Full-blown famine’ happening in Gaza, WFP warns, amid fresh push for truce

Northern Gaza is experiencing a “full-blown famine” which is rapidly spreading across the strip after almost seven months of war, the World Food Programme warned, as negotiators meet in Cairo in hopes of agreeing a ceasefire in the conflict raging in the territory.

The remarks have brought into sharp focus the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding.

“Whenever you have conflicts like this, and emotions rage high, and things happen in a war, famine happens,” the WFP’s Executive DIrector Cindy McCain told NBC’s “Meet the Press” in a clip released ahead of the interview airing on Sunday.

“What I can explain to you is – is that there is famine – full-blown famine – in the north, and it’s moving its way south.” While McCain’s remarks do not constitute an official declaration of famine, she said they were based on what WFP staff have seen on the ground.

“It’s horror,” she said of the situation in Gaza. “It’s so hard to look at and it’s so hard to hear.”

McCain said the WFP is asking for a ceasefire and “unfettered access” to Gaza as delivering aid to the territory has been extremely difficult.

Israel has faced increasing pressure in recent weeks to allow aid into Gaza after its military strikes killed seven staffers of World Central Kitchen, a US-based charity.

Human rights agencies have long warned of a spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza under Israel’s military assault, launched in response to the Hamas-led October 7 attacks. More than 34,600 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza as of May 1, according to the Gaza health ministry.

Over the course of the war, more than 1.9 million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced, according to the UN, with many sheltering in cramped tent camps that cannot offer enough access to sanitation or food. The entire population of more than 2.2 million people is now at risk of famine, and at least 30 children have already died of malnutrition and dehydration in Gaza, according to the health ministry.

Concerns are also heightened over an anticipated Israeli military operation in southern Gaza’s Rafah, prompting renewed calls for a ceasefire.

As negotiations continued in Cairo, Hamas political bureau leader Ismail Haniyeh issued a statement Sunday saying that “the Hamas movement is still keen to reach a comprehensive, interconnected agreement that ends the aggression, guarantees withdrawal [of the Israeli military from Gaza], and achieves a serious prisoner exchange deal.”

Haniyeh said that the delegation carried “positive and flexible positions” aimed at stopping “the aggression against our people, which is a fundamental and logical position that lays the foundation for a more stable future.” A Hamas delegation arrived in Egypt on Saturday for discussions on a possible ceasefire and hostage deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a video statement accusing Hamas of making unacceptable demands in the negotiations.

He said Israel had “demonstrated a willingness to go a long way” but “Hamas remained entrenched in its extreme positions, chief among them the demand to withdraw all our forces from the Strip, end the war, and leave Hamas intact.”

“The State of Israel cannot accept this,” Netanyahu continued. “Israel will not agree to Hamas’s demands, which mean surrender, and will continue the fighting until all its goals are achieved.”

People in southern Gaza queue to receive a bowl of food for their families from charity organizations, on May 3, 2024. - Doaa Albaz/Anadolu/Getty Images
People in southern Gaza queue to receive a bowl of food for their families from charity organizations, on May 3, 2024. - Doaa Albaz/Anadolu/Getty Images

Potential Rafah operation

US officials currently assess that a limited number of tents are currently being constructed in southern Gaza for the purpose of temporarily sheltering civilians who would be moved out of Rafah in the case of an incursion by the Israel Defense Forces, according to a senior administration official on Friday.

However, the official stressed that the tents that are being built are nowhere near the amount that would be needed to house the more than 1 million people who would seek shelter.

“[There is] no sign that they are imminently able to, willing or ready to go into Rafah,” the official said of Israeli forces. “Certainly they’re not prepared for the care and the feeding and the sustenance of a million and a half people.”

The Israeli government briefed humanitarian aid organizations in recent days about its plans for evacuating civilians from Rafah, according to a source familiar with the matter. The government warned that a Rafah operation was coming but did not provide any sort of timeline and didn’t suggest it was imminent.

US and Israeli officials have said any potential agreement on a framework that would bring both a temporary ceasefire and a release of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza would likely be followed by continued negotiations over the finer details.

A final deal between Israel and Hamas is expected to take several more days to negotiate in the Egyptian capital.

CNN’s Kareem Khadder, Mostafa Salem, Eve Brennan, Ibrahim Dahman and Tim Lister contributed reporting.

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