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Children starve to death in Gaza, WHO says, as ceasefire deal sticking points remain

<i>Mousa Salem/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>A mother cries for her baby in front of an incubator
Mousa Salem/Anadolu/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
A mother cries for her baby in front of an incubator

By Helen Regan, Ibrahim Dahman and Amy Cassidy, CNN

(CNN) — A growing number of children in Gaza are dying of starvation and dehydration, according to the World Health Organization and Palestinian officials, amid desperate conditions due to Israel’s throttling of aid and destruction of the besieged enclave — reinforcing the urgency of this week’s ceasefire talks.

A WHO team found “severe levels of malnutrition, children dying of starvation, serious shortages of fuel, food and medical supplies, hospital buildings destroyed,” during a recent visit to the Al-Awda and Kamal Adwan hospitals in northern Gaza, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on X Monday.

Tedros appealed to Israel to ensure the safe and regular delivery of humanitarian aid and for a halt to the fighting.

Negotiators gathered in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Sunday for talks on a Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal and release of hostages from Gaza, but Israel did not send a delegation, an Israeli official told CNN, despite increasing international pressure to end hostilities and allow for a desperately needed surge of humanitarian aid.

The official said the reason was that Hamas had not responded to two Israeli demands: a list of Israeli hostages specifying which are alive and which are dead; and confirmation of the ratio of Palestinian prisoners to be released from Israeli prisons, in exchange for the hostages taken when Hamas militants attacked communities in southern Israel on October 7.

The militant group wants a permanent end to fighting before agreeing to release hostages, a Hamas source told CNN as a Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo on Sunday. However, a high-ranking Hamas official did not immediately respond to a CNN question about whether the militant group had responded to Israel’s conditions.

It comes as the United States is increasingly vocal about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, where the United Nations warns hundreds of thousands of people are on the brink of famine and US ally Israel continues to obstruct the bulk of aid deliveries.

On Saturday, the US made its first humanitarian airdrop into the strip — 66 bundles containing meals but no water or medical supplies, a US official said. Aid groups have criticized the air drops as an ineffective and degrading way to get aid to Palestinians in Gaza, with the International Crisis Group’s UN director saying they are at best a “temporary Band-Aid measure.”

One of the strongest rebukes of Israel by a US official to date came from US Vice President Kamala Harris, who on Sunday forcefully called for more humanitarian aid into Gaza, saying that people in the region are “starving” in the face of “inhumane” conditions and urged Israel to do more.

She called for an “immediate ceasefire for at least the next six weeks,” a proposal currently on the negotiating table, and urged Hamas to free Israeli hostages.

“What we are seeing every day in Gaza is devastating. We have seen reports of families eating leaves or animal feed. Women giving birth to malnourished babies with little or no medical care, and children dying from malnutrition and dehydration,” Harris said, citing the deaths of dozens of Palestinians amid Israeli gunfire and panic at Gaza food lines.

“The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses,” said Harris.

Her comments come at a critical moment in the Israel-Hamas war. On Monday, Benny Gantz, a key member of Israel’s war cabinet and one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s most prominent political rivals, was in Washington, holding meetings with high-level US officials that will include Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Gantz’s three-day trip to the US capital has rankled some of Netanyahu’s allies. Dudi Amsalem, Minister of Regional Cooperation and a member of Netanyhau’s Likud party, said Gantz’s visit was in “total violation of government regulations” and accused Gantz of attempting to “stop the IDF from winning the war and create an opportunity to lead the process of establishing a Palestinian state that will eliminate the State of Israel!”

Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported that Netayahu was not aware of Gantz’s plans and had instructed the Israeli embassy in Washington not to facilitate the visit. But Gantz said he personally informed Netanyahu of his plans to visit Washington DC over the weekend, according to a statement from his office. CNN has reached out to Netanyahu’s office for comment.

Since the war began, Gantz’s National Unity party has steadily climbed in the opinion polls while Likud has lost ground.

Children starving to death

In northern Gaza, children are starving to death and others fighting for their lives as critical supplies are held up from reaching those in need.

A Palestinian Ministry of Health spokesperson said Sunday the number of children who have died of dehydration and malnutrition in northern Gaza has risen to 15.

CNN cannot independently confirm the deaths of the children or their causes due to the lack of international media access to wartime Gaza.

A further 124 people were killed over the past 24 hours, the Gaza Ministry of Health said Monday, bringing the death toll in the enclave since October 7 to 30,534.

Doctors at the Kamal Adwan Hospital also “fear for the lives of six children suffering from malnutrition and diarrhea in intensive care as a result of the cessation of the electric generator and oxygen and the weakness of medical capabilities,” Dr. Ashraf Al-Qidra, the Ministry spokesman in Gaza, said in a statement.

The death toll has been rising since last week when incubators and oxygen supplies at Kamal Adwan Hospital ceased to operate at night because of fuel shortages, the ministry said.

A WHO team visiting the hospital at the weekend corroborated the dire conditions, saying the lack of food resulted in the deaths of 10 children at the hospital.

“Kamal Adwan Hospital is the only paediatrics hospital in the north of Gaza, and is overwhelmed with patients… The lack of electricity poses a serious threat to patient care, especially in critical areas like the intensive care unit and the neonatal unit,” WHO chief Tedros said on X.

The United Nations children’s agency has called for urgent action, requesting “multiple reliable entry points” to allow them to bring aid.

“Humanitarian aid agencies like UNICEF must be enabled to reverse the humanitarian crisis, prevent a famine, and save children’s lives,” UNICEF’s Adele Khodr said in a statement Sunday.

UNICEF said it was also aware of at least 10 children dying due to dehydration and malnutrition in recent days at Kamal Adwan Hospital.

“There are likely more children fighting for their lives somewhere in one of Gaza’s few remaining hospitals, and likely even more children in the north unable to obtain care at all,” Khodr added.

One recent incident exposed the particularly desperate situation in northern Gaza.

More than 100 people were killed last week when Israeli troops opened fire on crowds, triggering panic as hungry Palestinian civilians were gathering around food aid trucks, Palestinian officials and eyewitnesses said.

Israel said its troops fired warning shots to disperse the crowd. A UN team that visited victims said many suffered gunshot wounds.

In a separate incident on Sunday, at least eight people were killed and several others injured in an Israeli strike on an aid distribution truck in central Gaza, the enclave’s health ministry told CNN. The truck, carrying aid donated by Kuwait, was struck on the Al Rashid coastal road in the city of Deir El Belah.

CNN footage shows a medium-sized truck destroyed, with seats covered in blood. Some people can be seen gathered around the wrecked vehicle, looking through the sand for aid that is still intact and can be used. The IDF has not responded to CNN’s request for comment.

UNICEF’s Khodr described the situation in Gaza as “man-made, predictable, and entirely preventable,” and warned the death toll among children could rapidly increase unless immediate action is taken.

“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.

“People are hungry, exhausted and traumatized. Many are clinging to life.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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CNN’s Amir Tal, Richard Allen Greene, Richard Roth, Eyad Kourdi, Oren Liebermann, Sophie Tanno, Priscilla Alvarez, Betsy Klein, Sam Fossum, Lauren Izso, Abeer Salman and Celine Alkhaldi contributed reporting.

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