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Ramadan Brings No Relief as Israel-Hamas War Rages in Gaza

Gaza’s deadliest war showed no signs of abating as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began Monday amid a grueling humanitarian crisis that has pushed much of the territory to the brink of starvation.

UN and aid groups say only a fraction of the supplies needed for Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been allowed in since Israel placed it under near-total siege after the October 7 attack. 

As the Muslim world welcomed Ramadan with the customary daytime fast, many Gazans awoke to bombardment that saw residents once more search through the rubble of destroyed homes for survivors and bodies.

“The start of Ramadan has been sad and covered in darkness, with the taste and stench of blood everywhere,” said one displaced Palestinian man, Awni al-Kayyal, 50.

“The (Israeli) occupation does not want us to have any joy during Ramadan. We do not have any food for our iftar table,” he said, referring to the fast-breaking evening meal. 

A Cyprus government spokesman said a Spanish charity ship with food aid was set to sail from the island within hours to the coastal Gaza Strip, where the UN has repeatedly warned of famine.

The non-governmental group Open Arms said its boat would tow a barge with 200 tonnes of food, which its partner the US charity World Central Kitchen would later unload on Gaza’s shores.

Fighting meanwhile raged on across Gaza, with the Israeli military reporting that troops killed 15 militants “in close encounters, sniper file and airstrikes.”

It added that “several Hamas operatives were arrested” during raids on homes in southern Gaza, while witnesses reported violent clashes in several areas through the night.

Gaza’s health ministry said at least 67 people were killed over the past 24 hours. 

The Hamas government media office said separately that more than 40 airstrikes targeted homes in Khan Yunis, Gaza City and other areas.

‘Immense pain’

Multiple countries airdropped aid into northern Gaza on Sunday, but the United Nations’ aid coordinator for the area has said boosting supply by land would be far more effective.

Some of the food packages smashed open on impact, leaving residents picking through the dirt to salvage what they could, AFPTV images showed.

The war started by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel has killed 31,112 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Weeks of talks involving US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a truce and hostage exchange deal ahead of the intended target of the start of Ramadan. 

Both sides have blamed each other for failing to reach a deal, after Israel demanded a full list of surviving hostages and Hamas called for Israel to pull out all its troops from Gaza.

A source with knowledge of the ceasefire talks told AFP “there will be a diplomatic push especially in the next 10 days” with a view to securing a deal within the first half of Ramadan.

The Islamic holy month this year is “all pain,” said Ahmed Kamis, 40, in Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah, where around 1.5 million people have tried to find refuge but are still at risk from Israeli bombing.

But even as many Palestinians did not know where to find their next meal, others still found ways to celebrate the start of the holy month, fashioning meager decorations and distributing traditional fanous lanterns between their tents.

In Washington, President Joe Biden, who faces growing criticism for his steadfast support of Israel as the civilian death toll in Gaza soars, issued a statement marking the start of Ramadan.

This year, it comes at a moment of immense pain,” Biden said.

As Muslims gather around the world over the coming days and weeks to break their fast, the suffering of the Palestinian people will be front of mind for many. It is front of mind for me.”

 ‘Heinous crimes’

In Saudi Arabia, King Salman called in his Ramadan message for the international community to “uphold its responsibilities to put an end to these heinous crimes” in Gaza.

 UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed his “solidarity and support to all those suffering from the horrors in Gaza. In these trying times, the spirit of Ramadan is a beacon of hope, a reminder of our shared humanity.”

Responding to growing US and domestic pressure, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said most Israelis back “the action that we’re taking to destroy the remaining terrorist battalions of Hamas.”

He said Israel’s military had killed “at least 13,000 terrorist fighters,” without detailing how the figure was derived.

Hamas’s attack that started the war resulted in about 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on Israeli official figures.

 The militants also took around 250 hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes that 99 hostages still in Gaza remain alive and 31 have died.

 The UN has reported particular difficulty in accessing northern Gaza for deliveries of food and other aid.

 What is available in the south is sold at exorbitant prices, residents say, making this Ramadan harder than any before.

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