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Northern Gaza in grip of famine as Israel blocks aid, U.N. officials say

An international entity for food security known as IPC said that famine is projected to occur by May in Northern Gaza.

World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés, second from right, helps feed people in Gaza (AN/World Central Kitchen/

Israel continues to deny full access to humanitarian aid workers trying to bring food and other essential items into the Gaza Strip, despite famine taking hold in Northern Gaza, according to two senior U.N. officials.

Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, said on Sunday that Israel won't let him enter Gaza and is blocking the United Nations from trying to avert famine in the region.

Over the past two weeks, he said, there have been 10 incidents of Israelis shooting at aid convoys and arresting U.N. staff using bullying and strip search tactics. Long delays at checkpoints also stymied convoys, he said.

"These incidents happen repeatedly at the time we are engaged in a race against the clock to avert famine in Gaza," said Lazzarini.

Cindy McCain, executive director of the World Food Program, warned that famine has taken hold in Northern Gaza, though the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, or IPC, has not formally declared a famine.

"There is famine, full-blown famine in the north. And it's moving its way south," McCain told NBC News in an interview aired on Sunday.

"What we're asking for and what we continually ask for, is a ceasefire and the ability to have unfettered access to get in – safe and unfettered access – to get into Gaza at various ports and various gate crossings," she said.

However, Israel's agency COGAT, which coordinates aid in Gaza, said Israel has "continuously enhanced its humanitarian efforts to increase aid into Gaza, spearheading initiatives that significantly improve conditions in both northern and southern Gaza."

It said aid trucks traveled daily into Northern Gaza in recent weeks in coordination with the international community, and that in talks between Israeli and U.N. representatives, including the World Food Program, "none of the entities indicated a risk of famine in Northern Gaza."

IPC, an offshoot of the Food and Agriculture Organization, defines famine as "an extreme deprivation of food. Starvation, death, destitution and extremely critical levels of acute malnutrition are or will likely be evident."

In March, it assessed that "famine is imminent as 1.1 million people, half of Gaza, experience catastrophic food insecurity," and it is "projected to occur anytime between mid-March and May 2024" in Northern Gaza.