Child deaths in Gaza likely to ‘rapidly increase’ amid obstacles to aid: UNICEF

The United Nations warned Sunday that child deaths will “rapidly increase” in Gaza if humanitarian aid deliveries do not immediately increase, adding to pressure on the Israeli government over humanitarian conditions in the Israel-Hamas war.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza amidst the conflict, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, including more than 100 civilians killed when the Israeli army opened fire on a crowd seeking aid Thursday.

Adele Khodr, regional director for the U.N.’s children’s aid organization, said numerous reported child deaths in Gaza are “man-made, predictable and entirely preventable.”

“The widespread lack of nutritious food, safe water and medical services, a direct consequence of the impediments to access and multiple dangers facing UN humanitarian operations, is impacting children and mothers, hindering their ability to breastfeed their babies, especially in the Northern Gaza Strip,” she said in a statement. “People are hungry, exhausted and traumatized. Many are clinging to life.”

The Biden administration has increased pressure on the Israeli government in recent days over humanitarian aid, launching an airdrop campaign in Gaza to deliver aid and stepping up statements critical of the Israeli government.

Earlier Sunday, Vice President Harris urged the Israeli government to increase aid deliveries amid a “humanitarian catastrophe,” saying there are “no excuses.”

Khodr said the situation is most dire in northern Gaza, where fighting has gone on the longest and aid is less accessible. She said about 16 percent of children showed signs of malnutrition in a study in January.

“UNICEF has been warning since October that the death toll in Gaza would increase exponentially if a humanitarian crisis emerged and was left to fester,” she said. “The situation has only gotten worse, and as a result, last week, we warned that an explosion in child deaths was imminent if the burgeoning nutrition crisis wasn’t resolved.”

“Now, the child deaths we feared are here and are likely to rapidly increase unless the war ends and obstacles to humanitarian relief are immediately resolved,” she added.

President Biden has backed a six-week cease-fire in the war to allow critical aid to flow into Gaza. The Israeli government agreed to the framework of the proposed cease-fire Saturday, The Associated Press reported, a sign of progress in tense negotiations.

Harris is set to meet with Israeli Cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Monday at the White House to discuss the cease-fire deal and humanitarian aid, The New York Times reported. The scheduled meeting reportedly draws the ire of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not authorize the trip, according to The Times of Israel.

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