No Ramadan relief as Israel-Hamas war rages in Gaza

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The first day of Ramadan on Monday arrived like others for Palestinians in war-ravaged Gaza: stalked by famine and disease, shivering in tents and threatened by bombs more than five months into fighting between Israel and Hamas militants.

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

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 the Palestinian territory under near-total siege after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.

For the latest updates on the Israel-Palestine conflict, visit our dedicated page.

“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.

Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 10, 2024. (AP)
Smoke rises in the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 10, 2024. (AP)

Goods that are available are sold at exorbitant prices, residents say.

A Spanish charity vessel laden with food was set to sail from Cyprus to Gaza but faced delays, with Cypriot state media saying the platform to receive the aid in Gaza was not ready.

The non-governmental group Open Arms said its boat was expected to tow a barge with 200 tons of food, but a spokeswoman could not confirm when it would depart.

Fighting raged across Gaza, even as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “silencing the guns” during Ramadan which he said celebrates “peace, reconciliation and solidarity.

“Yet even though Ramadan has begun – the killing, bombing and bloodshed continue in Gaza,” Guterres said.

The Israeli military reported that troops killed 15 militants “in close encounters, sniper fire 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 overnight.

Hamas’ attack that started the war resulted in about 1,200 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to 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.

Israel’s retaliatory bombardment and ground offensive has killed 31,112 Palestinians, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in Gaza.

It said at least 67 people were killed over the previous 24 hours.

The Hamas government media office said separately that more than 40 airstrikes targeted homes in Khan Younis city in Gaza’s south, Gaza City in the north, and other areas.

Meagre decorations

Multiple countries again airdropped aid into northern Gaza on Monday, but outgoing Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said aid could be delivered more efficiently via five land borders.

Humanitarian workers have made similar comments.

Muslim worshippers perform “Tarawih,” an extra lengthy prayer held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 10, 2024. (AP)
Muslim worshippers perform “Tarawih,” an extra lengthy prayer held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 10, 2024. (AP)

Weeks of talks involving United States, Qatari and Egyptian mediators failed to bring about a truce and hostage exchange deal ahead Ramadan.

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

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

In Rafah, dozens of Gazans offered prayers on the first day of Ramadan in the ruins of a mosque hit by an Israeli airstrike just days ago.

Tens of thousands of worshippers are drawn every Ramadan to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem – Islam’s third holiest site and the most sacred for Jews.

The cite has been a flashpoint of tensions in the past and is again a focus.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said his country “respects the freedom of worship at Al-Aqsa and all holy places” but warned “everyone not to try us.” His comment came after a spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas on Friday called on “our people” to mobilize and head towards Al-Aqsa.

A sea of tents

In Washington, President Joe Biden, who faces domestic criticism for his steadfast support of Israel as the civilian death toll in Gaza soars, said this year’s Ramadan “comes at a moment of immense pain.”

As Muslims around the world gather during Ramadan to break their fast, “the suffering of the Palestinian people will be front of mind for many. It is front of mind for me.”

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The United States provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel, and Biden’s administration has given short shrift to activist calls to cut such funding.

In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest sites, 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.

In a retort to comments from Biden, 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.”

Biden had said Israel’s approach to the war in Gaza was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

Netanyahu is under pressure from desperate families of hostages still held in Gaza as well as critics of his government.

In an interview with Politico, he reiterated his intention to send troops into Rafah to root out Hamas in Gaza’s southernmost tip, where around 1.5 million people have tried to find refuge.

“We’ll go there,” he said. “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn’t happen again.”

Many of the displaced in Rafah are sheltered in a sea of mostly-white makeshift tents. Inland from the coast, they are crowded together, with just enough room for a miniature Ferris wheel spinning with children.

-With AFP

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