Photo- AFP

By Adel Zaanoun with Phil Hazlewood in Jerusalem AFP

Concern deepened Saturday over the growing humanitarian crisis in the war-torn Gaza Strip, with aid agencies warning of unprecedented levels of desperation and looming famine.

Dozens more Gazans were killed in Israeli strikes, the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said, after Israel’s spy chief joined talks with mediators in Paris seeking to unblock negotiations on a truce.

As civilians in the besieged territory struggled to get food and supplies, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned Gazans were “in extreme peril while the world watches”.

In northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, bedraggled children held plastic containers and battered cooking pots for what little food was available.

Food is running out, with aid agencies unable to get into the area because of the bombing, while the trucks that do try to get through face frenzied looting.

Residents have taken to eating scavenged scraps of rotten corn, animal fodder unfit for human consumption and even leaves.

The World Food Programme said this week its teams reported “unprecedented levels of desperation” while the United Nations warned that 2.2 million people were on the brink of famine.

The health ministry said on Saturday that a two-month-old baby identified as Mahmud Fatuh had died of “malnutrition” in Gaza City.

Save the Children said the risk of famine would continue to “increase as long as the government of Israel continues to impede the entry of aid into Gaza”.

Israel has defended its track record on allowing aid into Gaza, saying that 13,000 trucks carrying relief supplies had entered the territory since the start of the war.

With tempers rising dozens of people in the Jabalia camp on Friday held an impromptu protest.

“We didn’t die from air strikes but we are dying from hunger,” read a sign held by one child.

–  ‘Bring them back’ –

An Israeli delegation led by Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea travelled to Paris for a fresh push towards a deal over a ceasefire.

The talks were continuing as planned on Saturday, a Western official told AFP speaking on condition of anonymity. The official declined to comment on the content of the discussions.

As with a previous week-long truce in November that saw more than 100 hostages freed, Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been spearheading efforts to secure a deal.

White House envoy Brett McGurk held talks this week with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv, after speaking to other mediators in Cairo who had met Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

The war began after Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

Hamas militants also took hostages, 130 of whom remain in Gaza, including 30 presumed dead, according to Israel.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 29,606 people, mostly women and children, according to the latest tally released on Saturday by Gaza’s health ministry.

Pressure has mounted on Netanyahu’s government to negotiate a ceasefire and secure the release of the hostages.

A group representing their families planned a new rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening to demand swifter action.

“We keep telling you: bring them back to us! And no matter how,” said Avivit Yablonka, 45, whose sister Hanan was captured on October 7.

– Death toll rises –

Hamas said Saturday that Israeli forces launched more than 70 strikes on civilian homes in Gazan cities including Deir al-Balah, Khan Yunis and Rafah over the previous 24 hours.

The health ministry said at least 92 people were killed.

At Najjar hospital in Rafah, AFP saw bodies carried from ambulances and placed in the courtyard of the hospital in body bags, while relatives grieved.

Inside the hospital, medics treated several wounded men who were laid out on the floor.

Israel’s military said it was “intensifying the operations” in western Khan Yunis using tanks, close-range fire and aircraft.

“The soldiers raided the residence of a senior military intelligence operative” in the area and destroyed a tunnel shaft, a military statement said.

With war still raging after more than four months, Netanyahu unveiled a plan for post-war Gaza this week which sees civil affairs being run by Palestinian officials without links to Hamas.

It also says Israel will move ahead with a plan, already underway, to establish a security buffer zone inside Gaza along the territory’s border.

A senior Hamas official said Netanyahu was “presenting ideas which he knows fully well will never succeed”, while the proposal was also rejected by the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel’s key ally the United States said it did not support a “reoccupation” or a “reduction of the size of Gaza”, and said “Palestinian people should have a voice and a vote… through a revitalised Palestinian Authority”.

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