NEW YORK - Heavy shelling reported in the so-called safe zone of Al-Mawasi in southern Gaza on Thursday came despite the ongoing international push for a ceasefire and as the UN health agency reported 32 deaths from malnutrition “including 28 among children under five years old”.

In a stark assessment of the dire situation after more than eight months of war, the head of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Tuesday that “a significant proportion of Gaza’s population is now facing catastrophic hunger and famine-like conditions”.

To date, more than 8,000 youngsters have been diagnosed and treated for acute malnutrition, including 1,600 children with the most dangerous form of the condition, the WHO Director-General said.

“Despite reports of increased delivery of food, there is currently no evidence that those who need it most are receiving sufficient quantity and quality of food,” Tedros maintained.

Nutrition relief gone

Lifesaving treatment for dangerously malnourished children is dwindling in the war-shattered enclave, with only two of three specialized nutrition stabilization centres for seriously undernourished youngsters in Gaza still open, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

In an update on Tuesday, the UN agency warned that malnourished children were ‘dying before their families’ eyes’, while the UN aid coordination office, OCHA, reported that escalating hostilities across Gaza continue to significantly hinder access to health care.

Some aid success

Despite the ongoing operational and security challenges for aid teams, “humanitarian partners are currently reaching some 280,000 people per week in Gaza with health services”, OCHA said, before noting that shortages of cooking gas and lack of a power supply have made it difficult to keep community kitchens and bakeries running.

“Efforts to distribute food remain constrained by the active fighting, damaged roads, a limited number of entry points into Gaza, suboptimal operating hours at crossings and checkpoints, and the limited number of trucks allowed access,” the UN aid office said. “To roll back months of near-starvation conditions in Gaza, other types of critical aid must also reach people in need.”

No let-up in West Bank escalation

In the occupied West Bank, OCHA warned that the situation continues to worsen, amid ongoing violence by Israeli forces and settlers targeting Palestinians.

Since the Hamas-led terror attacks on 7 October that sparked the war, more than 520 Palestinians – nearly a quarter of them children – have been killed in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, latest OCHA data indicated.

“Almost three quarters of those fatalities occurred during operations by Israeli forces. During the same period, more than 5,200 Palestinians were injured in these areas,” OCHA said in an update, which counted 960 attacks against Palestinians by Israeli settlers since 7 October. These incidents are “on the rise”, OCHA noted.

Attacks on healthcare

Echoing those concerns, the WHO’s Tedros warned that the UN health agency had documented 480 attacks on health care in the West Bank since 7 October, resulting in 16 deaths and 95 injuries.

“While the world’s focus has been on Gaza, there is also an escalating health crisis in the West Bank, where attacks on health care and restrictions on movement of people are obstructing access to health services,” he said.

Illegal settlements have expanded in the occupied West Bank, impacting the population’s access to health services, the WHO chief continued, noting that in most areas of the West Bank, clinics are only able to operate two days a week, and hospitals operate at about 70 per cent capacity.