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U.N. halts all food distribution in Rafah after running out of supplies in the southern Gaza city

Palestinians line up for food distributions
Palestinians line up for food distributions in Rafah, Gaza Strip, in January.
(Hatem Ali / Associated Press)
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The United Nations said Tuesday it suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah due to lack of supplies and insecurity. It also said no aid trucks entered in the last two days via a floating pier set up by the U.S. for sea deliveries.

The U.N. has not specified how many people have stayed in Rafah since the Israeli military began its intensified assault there two weeks ago, but apparently several hundred thousand people remain. The U.N. World Food Program said it was also running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Rafah have sought shelter in a chaotic exodus, setting up new tent camps or crowding into areas devastated by previous Israeli offensives.

Abeer Etefa, a spokesperson for the World Food Program, warned that “humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse.” If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.

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The warning came as Israel seeks to contain the fallout from a request by the chief prosecutor of the world’s top war crimes court for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, a move supported by three European countries, including key ally France.

The prosecutor at the International Criminal Court cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for alleged “use of starvation as a method of warfare,” a charge they and other Israeli officials angrily deny. The prosecutor accused three Hamas leaders of war crimes over killings of civilians in the group’s Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

The U.N says some 1.1 million people in Gaza — nearly half the population — face catastrophic levels of hunger and that the territory is on the brink of famine. The crisis in humanitarian supplies has spiraled in the two weeks since Israel launched an assault on Rafah on May 6, vowing to root out Hamas fighters. Troops seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt, which has been closed since. Since May 10, only about three dozen trucks made it into Gaza via the nearby Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel because fighting makes it difficult for aid workers to reach it, the U.N. says.

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For months, the U.N. has warned that an Israeli assault on Rafah could wreck the effort to get food, medicine and other supplies to Palestinians across Gaza. Throughout the war, Rafah has been filled with scenes of hungry children holding out pots and plastic containers at makeshift soup kitchens, with many families reduced to eating only one meal a day. The city’s population had swelled to some 1.3 million people, most of whom fled fighting elsewhere.

About 810,000 people have streamed out of Rafah, although Israel says it has not launched the full-fledged invasion of the city it had planned. The United States has said Israel did not present a “credible” plan for evacuating the population or keeping it safe.

The main agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, announced the suspension of distribution in Rafah in a post on X, without elaborating beyond citing the lack of supplies. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the UNRWA distribution center and the World Food Program’s warehouses in Rafah were “inaccessible due to ongoing military operations.”

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When asked about the ramification of the suspension of distribution, Dujarric replied, “People don’t eat.”

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Etefa said the WFP had also stopped distribution in Rafah after exhausting its stocks. It continues passing out hot meals and “limited distributions” of reduced food parcels in central Gaza, but “food parcel stocks will run out within days,” she said.

Asked for comment on getting food to Rafah, the Israeli military office in charge of coordinating aid did not immediately reply. Israeli officials say they place no restrictions on the amount of aid going through the crossings. Small numbers of aid trucks continue to enter northern Gaza via a crossing from Israel.

The United States has depicted the floating pier it erected off the Gaza coast as a potential route for accelerated deliveries. The first 10 trucks rolled off a ship onto the pier Friday and were taken to a World Food Program warehouse. But a second shipment of 11 trucks Saturday was met by crowds of hungry Palestinians who took supplies, and only five trucks made it to the warehouse, Etefa said.

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No further deliveries came from the pier Sunday or Monday, she said. She said the problem of people taking supplies from convoys will continue without a consistent flow of aid to assure people “this is not a one-off event.”

“The responsibility of ensuring aid reaches those in need does not end at the crossings and other points of entry into Gaza — it extends throughout Gaza itself,” she said.

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At the same time, fighting has escalated in northern Gaza as Israeli troops conduct operations against Hamas fighters, who the military says regrouped in areas targeted in offensives months ago.

One of the main hospitals still operating in the north, Kamal Adwan, was forced to evacuate after it was “targeted” by Israeli troops, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Around 150 staff and dozens of patients fled the facility, including intensive care patients and infants in incubators “under fire from shelling,” it said. The Israeli military did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

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The nearby Awda hospital has been surrounded by troops the last three days, and an artillery shell hit its fifth floor, the hospital administration said in a statement Tuesday. A day earlier, the international medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said Awda had run out of drinking water.

The war between began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants crossed into Israel and killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 250 hostage. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan accused Hamas’ leaders of crimes against humanity, including extermination, murder and sexual violence.

Israel responded to the October attack with an offensive that has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between noncombatants and fighters in its count.

Monday’s call by Khan for arrest warrants deepens Israel’s global isolation at a time when it is facing growing criticism from even its closest allies over the war in Gaza. France, Belgium and Slovenia each said they backed Khan’s decision.

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Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz headed to France on Tuesday in response, urging it to “declare loud and clear” that the request for warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant “is unacceptable to you and to the French government — regardless of the court’s authority.”

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His meetings there could set the tone for how countries navigate the warrants — if they are eventually issued — and whether they could pose a threat to Israeli leaders. A panel of three ICC judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

Israel still has the support of its top ally, the United States, as well as other Western countries that spoke out against the decision. But if the warrants are issued, they could complicate international travel for Netanyahu and his defense minister, even if they do not face any immediate risk of prosecution because Israel is not a member of the court.

The prosecutor also requested warrants for Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh. Hamas is already considered an international terrorist group by the West. Sinwar and Deif are believed to be hiding in Gaza. But Haniyeh, the supreme leader of the Islamic militant group, is based in Qatar and frequently travels across the region. Qatar, like Israel, is not a member of the ICC.

Magdy, Keath and Goldenberg write for the Associated Press. Goldenberg reported from Jerusalem. AP journalists Majdi Mohammed in the Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, Jack Jeffery in Jerusalem, John Leicester in Paris, and Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.

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