Gripped by hunger, Gazans queue for meagre food

24 Dec 2023 08:40am
Palestinians collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP
Palestinians collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo by Mahmud Hams/AFP
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GAZA CITY - When Bakr al-Naji realises the meals he prepares each day for a charity in the Gaza Strip won't be sufficient to fill the stomachs of the children, his heart sinks.

In Rafah, a city at the southern end of Gaza, thousands of people queue up for a little food at the Tkiyeh centre, said Naji.

The 28-year-old was displaced from Gaza City, but volunteers to cook for those facing the same circumstances.

"The most difficult moment, for me, is when I hand out the meals," he told AFP.

"I feel a pang in my heart when there is no more food and the children complain and say they haven't eaten enough," he said.

Faced with those pleas, most volunteers sacrifice their own meals.

According to UN's hunger monitoring system (IPC) by the start of December more than two million Gazans were already facing acute food insecurity, with more than 378,000 experiencing "catastrophic hunger".

The IPC report on Thursday said that there was a risk of famine which was "increasing each day" and warned that within weeks the entire population will face "acute food insecurity" or worse.

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Humanitarian aid is only trickling into the besieged coastal territory, which Israel's army has been pounding since October 7.

The relentless ground and air campaign, aimed at destroying Hamas, was triggered by the Islamist groups' unprecedented operation on Israel in which it killed around 1,140 people, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.

Israel's retaliation has killed more than 20,200 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

In Rafah, people crowded against a barrier separating the crowd from large, steaming pots of food.

Adults and a large number of children were waiting with plastic bowls and small pots.

"Lentils and bulgur wheat have disappeared from the markets, as well as peas and white beans," said Khaled Sheikh al-Eid, an official at the charity which serves around 10,000 people a day.

His centre survives thanks to donations and volunteers and must constantly juggle what few supplies are available.

- 'Die of hunger' - "A can of beans has gone from one shekel ($ 0.28) to six)," said Naji.

"People were poor before the war, even those who worked had barely enough to feed their children. How can they cope now?" he asked. "I fear that people will die of hunger."

In the morning, Salam Haidar, 36, was queueing outside the food centre.

"They told me that it's too early but I want to be sure that I get something," said the mother of three small children.

"My son cries when he sees another child holding a piece of bread. He tried to steal sweets from another child, I had to tell him it was very bad."

Nur Barbakh, five months pregnant and displaced from Khan Yunis, was also waiting hours before the opening of the centre in Rafah.

"Sometimes I send my 12-year-old eldest son but he gets beaten up. He comes back crying and empty handed," said Barbakh.

"If it wasn't for this centre, we would have nothing at all," she said, holding three tomatoes and two shekels in her hand. "I couldn't find any bread".

"My children have lost a lot of weight, the hunger wakes them up at night," she said, adding that she was considering returning to her home in Khan Yunis, despite it being the centre of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

"It's better to die at home as a martyr than to die of hunger," she said. - AFP