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As Palestinians face famine, why is it so hard for help to reach Gaza?


In northern Gaza, Palestinians are facing the threat of famine, but aid groups say they continue to struggle with delivering help. NPR's Fatma Tanis looked at why getting help into Gaza is so hard.

FATMA TANIS, BYLINE: I am at the border between Israel and Egypt. I can see the Egyptian flag waving just a few meters away. And if I look at the Egyptian side across from the fence, I can actually see rows of trucks that are just sort of parked there, waiting to be inspected by the Israelis. Those trucks are carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Any convoys headed there have to stop here first for inspection. But no trucks have been allowed to pass for hours. That's because here on the Israeli side of the fence, there are a few dozen protesters sitting on the ground singing some music. A group of teenage girls are tossing a water bottle around. They've come a long distance to prevent aid trucks from reaching Gaza. They say they want nothing to get in until Hamas releases the hostages. Some days they protest here, other days at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, which is where most of the aid flow is entering from these days. The only other open crossing is Rafah, on the Gaza-Egypt border. Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, says Israel needs to open more of its border crossings in the north.

JAMIE MCGOLDRICK: Why are we relying on feeding over 1.5 million displaced people through one gate when you have disruptions to that gate because things happen like demonstrations that block it for days?

TANIS: But that's just one of many reasons why aid has only been trickling into Gaza, where people are hungry. The U.N. says at least 10 children have starved to death and warns there could be a rapid increase in child deaths. Aid groups say Israel is not doing enough to alleviate the deteriorating situation.

MCGOLDRICK: The Israelis don't quite understand the way we work in terms of the humanitarian needs and the way we have to address those humanitarian needs. Israel's there for the war aims that they have, and the humanitarian part of it, I don't think, is a priority for them.

TANIS: Shimon Friedman, a spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, known as COGAT, told NPR that Israel is not putting any limits on food or medical aid.

SHIMON FRIEDMAN: Israel works tirelessly, and COGAT especially, on finding ways to get humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza.

TANIS: Miriam Marmur is the director of public advocacy for Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit organization which monitors the rights of Palestinians.

MIRIAM MARMUR: In practice, there are several limiting factors in Israeli policy that are directly impacting how much aid can enter.

TANIS: One big factor is that aid agencies are not allowed to purchase any goods from Israel or the West Bank, or even import them through Israeli ports. It's part of several policies aimed at cutting Gaza off. Then there is the cap on fuel that Israel allows in.

MARMUR: Fuel, which is hugely, hugely needed and impacts every single part of everyday life and the humanitarian response, given the total blackout in Gaza's electrical grid.

TANIS: Once aid trucks are inspected and allowed into Gaza, there's a different set of challenges, most importantly safety. McGoldrick says Israel needs to allow aid groups access to secure roads to prevent tragedies like the killing last week of more than 100 Palestinians waiting for flour trucks.

MCGOLDRICK: When we go into the communities, because the supply chain and the law and order issue, it makes it very inconsistent in terms of how we get goods out into the community. And because of that, people get very desperate because people are starving.

TANIS: In Gaza City, 35-year-old Amin Abed is jobless, taking care of his three sisters. He borrows money to buy a can of mushrooms or olives at a steep price. Lately, though, they've had to grind animal feed into a sort of flour.

AMIN ABED: (Non-English language spoken).

TANIS: It's anything but flour, though, he says. You can barely cook it. You can't even swallow it, but it's all there is.

Fatma Tanis, NPR News, Nitzana, on the border of Israel and Egypt. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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