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Humanitarian aid falls through the sky towards the Gaza Strip after being dropped from an aircraft, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from Israel's border with Gaza, in southern Israel, on March 26.Amir Cohen/Reuters

The U.N. humanitarian office called on Tuesday for Israel to revoke an apparent ban on food deliveries to northern Gaza from the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, saying people there were facing a “cruel death by famine”.

Israel said on Monday it would stop working with UNRWA in Gaza, accusing the aid agency of perpetuating conflict. The agency said Israel told it that it would no longer approve its food convoys to north Gaza. Four such requests were denied since March 21, it said.

“The decision must be revoked,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “You cannot claim to adhere to these international provisions of law when you block UNRWA food convoys.”

UNRWA, which provides aid and services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza and across the region, has been in crisis since Israel accused a dozen of its staff of involvement in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks against Israel. UNRWA fired some staff members as a result and the allegations are under investigation.

A U.N.-backed report this month said famine was imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza.

James Elder, spokesperson for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Gaza, described seeing “paper thin” children in a hospital in northern Gaza and incubators full of underweight babies from malnourished mothers.

“Tens of thousands of people crowd the streets,” he told the same briefing, describing his latest visit to the north on Monday. “They make that universal signal of hand to mouth desperately asking and seeking for food.”

“Life-saving aid is being obstructed. Lives are being lost,” he said. “I saw children whose malnutrition state was so severe, skeletal,” he said.

Other aid agencies also deliver food parcels to northern Gaza, although UNRWA says it is the biggest provider.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas and is worried that the Palestinian militant group will divert aid, denies accusations by Egypt and U.N. aid agencies that it has delayed deliveries of humanitarian relief, saying the U.N. has failed to distribute aid within Gaza.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution on March 25 to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza amid growing concerns that famine may take hold, as the territory's hungry civilians are left with few options but to forage for a wild green plant called khobiza to survive on.


Twelve people have drowned trying to reach aid dropped by plane off a Gaza beach, Palestinian health authorities said on Tuesday, amid growing fears of famine nearly six months into Israel’s military campaign.

Video of the air drop obtained by Reuters showed crowds of people running towards the beach, in Beit Lahia in north Gaza, as crates with parachutes floated down, then people standing deep in water and bodies being pulled onto the sand.

It is the latest in a string of incidents involving deaths during aid deliveries in the tiny, crowded Palestinian enclave where some people are foraging for weeds to eat and baking barely edible bread from animal feed.

The video showed the apparently lifeless body of a bearded young man being hauled onto the beach, the eyes open but unmoving, and another man trying to revive him with chest compressions as somebody said, “It’s over.”

“He swam to get food for his children and he was martyred,” said a man standing on the beach who did not give his name.

“They should deliver aid through the (overland) crossings. Why are they doing this to us?”

Aid agencies say only about a fifth of required supplies are entering Gaza as Israel ploughs on with an air and ground offensive that has shattered the enclave, pushing parts of it into famine already.

They say deliveries by air or sea directly onto Hamas-run Gaza’s beaches are no substitute for increased supplies coming in by land via Israel or Egypt.

A piece of paper retrieved from Monday’s air drop said in Arabic written over an American flag that the aid was from the United States.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged Israel to give an “ironclad commitment” for unfettered aid access into the Gaza Strip and described the number of trucks blocked at the border as “a moral outrage”.

Israel says it puts no limit on the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza and blames problems in it reaching civilians within the enclave on U.N. agencies, which it says are inefficient.

UNRWA communications director Juliette Touma said the reported drownings showed the best way to deliver aid was by trucks run by aid agencies.

“These tragic reports coming from Gaza are yet another indication that the most efficient, fastest, safest way to reach people with much-needed humanitarian assistance is via road and via the humanitarian organizations including UNRWA who are working on the ground,” Touma said.

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