Most of the shelves were bare at Hassan Abu Shabab’s convenience store in the center of Khan Younis, a town in southern Gaza whose population has ballooned as tens of thousands of people displaced from the Israeli-encircled north have arrived.
A few bottles of cooking oil and cans of tomatoes were left on one shelf. Other than those, there were only sweets, toilet paper, washing-up liquid and a few other random, non-edible items. No bread, flour, sugar, rice, meat, or cheese. Outside, two refrigerators normally stocked with sodas were empty.
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“Before the war, we used to sell goods worth about 1,000 shekels ($260) a day. Today, we have nothing to sell. People have money, but there is nothing we can sell them,” said Abu Shabab, standing in the emptied store on Monday.
“I go to all the places around Khan Younis to find supplies but there is nothing,” he said.
Outside his store sat Um Ibrahim Al-Agha, a displaced woman, taking a short rest from her daily search for food.
“You now go to the biggest stores in Khan Younis and you don’t find anything you need. You don’t find flour, sugar, rice, salt or anything to give to your child,” she said.
“We went in one store where we didn’t find one biscuit. We found toilet paper and nappies. Do we eat that?”
Shortages of food, water, fuel and other goods have been worsening since Israel launched a military offensive and imposed a siege on the Gaza Strip in response to Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel by Hamas that controls the narrow coastal enclave.
Hamas fighters killed 1,200 people on Oct. 7 and abducted 240 as hostages, according to Israel’s tally. The Israeli assault has killed more than 11,000 people, according to health officials in Gaza, and caused a humanitarian catastrophe, according to aid groups and the United Nations.
With northern Gazans fleeing Israeli air strikes and ground forces that have now surrounded Gaza City and split the strip in two, Khan Younis has filled with makeshift tent cities, while schools, hospitals and even garages are overflowing with displaced families.
Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said the crowding was intense at facilities run by the agency, such as a school he visited on Sunday that is now a camp for displaced people.
“The humidity in these corridors is from people. You can smell the human sweat in the corridors. It’s quite overwhelming. People continue to sleep there because it’s under the UN flag,” he said by video link in a briefing to donor countries.
Some aid trucks have been allowed in from Egypt, through the Rafah border crossing, but nowhere near as many as would be required to meet the growing needs, according to aid groups.
Lazzarini said about 39 percent of food needs were being met.
“In one of the governorates people got one or two rounds of bread and a can of tuna for a family, and in Rafah it was one or two rounds of bread and a can of cheese for the family,” he said.
There were still rare examples of places where stocks of food had yet to run out, although it was only a matter of time unless new supplies arrived.
In Rafah, in south Gaza, a group of residents were churning out batches of rice and meat to feed displaced people, using ingredients donated by a benefactor who did not wish his name to be published, but stocks were fast running out.
The cook, Abu Mohammed, said the men had been producing 3,000 meals a day, using firewood to heat up large metal pots, and wrapping portions in aluminum foil to distribute to people staying in camps and shelters.
“We are cooking on wood fires because there is no electricity or gas. In two days, we will have to stop because we are running out of stocks,” he said.
“Open the borders, open the borders. Send us rice, ghee, send us salt and sugar. We have nothing.”