Newborns Die of Hunger and Mothers Struggle to Feed their Children as Israel’s siege Condemns Gazans to Starvation

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The young mother tenderly holds the fingers of her daughter, Mila. Just minutes ago, a 3-year-old girl died of starvation.

“My daughter was taken into to God’s mercy, because of the lack of calcium, potassium, and oxygen,” Nabi told CNN on Monday, as she cried into the arms of an elderly relative. “Suddenly, everything dropped, because she was not eating anything with iron, or eggs. She used to eat eggs every day before the war. Now nothing. She passed away.”

As Israel’s severe restrictions on aid entering the Gaza Strip drain essential supplies, displaced Palestinians told CNN they are struggling to feed their children. Starving mothers are unable to produce enough milk to breastfeed their babies, doctors say. Parents arrive at overwhelmed health facilities begging for infant formula. Civilians have lost on average tens of kilograms of weight, according to relief workers. In northern Gaza, people rush to grab aid from infrequent humanitarian drops. Health workers say they cannot offer life-saving treatment to malnourished Gazans because Israel’s bombardment and siege have crushed the medical system.

The Ministry of Health in Gaza said Tuesday that since the beginning of the war, 364 health workers had been killed; 269 medical staff arrested; 155 health facilities “destroyed,” and 155 ambulances “targeted.” CNN cannot independently confirm the numbers due to the lack of international media access to Gaza.

Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza after the militant group Hamas killed at least 1,200 people and kidnapped more than 250 others in southern Israel on October 7.

Since then, Israel’s attacks on Gaza have killed at least 30,717 Palestinians and wounded another 72,156 people, according to the Ministry of Health in the enclave, while its siege has drastically diminished vital supplies and left the enclave’s population of some 2.2 million people exposed to high levels of acute food insecurity or worse, according to the Integrated Food Security and Nutrition Phase Classification (IPC), which assesses global food insecurity and malnutrition.

Gaza is facing a hunger crisis

All 2.2 million people in Gaza are unable to meet their food needs, with nearly 677,000 currently suffering from catastrophic hunger. If the conflict worsens, this number is projected to rise to include half of the population by mid-March to mid-July.

At least 20 Palestinians have starved to death in Gaza, Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said on Wednesday. The youngest baby who died of starvation in the enclave was one day old, according to Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, director of Kamal Adwan Hospital. The true number could be even higher, as limited access to northern Gaza has hindered the ability of aid agencies to fully assess the situation there. UN experts accused Israel of “intentionally starving” Palestinians in Gaza. Israel insists there is “no limit” on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, but its inspection regime on aid trucks has meant that only a tiny fraction of the amount of food and other supplies that used to enter Gaza daily before the war is getting in now.

‘Thousands of babies will die’

One-year-old Watin, in northern Gaza, has grown tired and weak from dehydration. Instead of drinking baby formula, she is surviving on one to two dates a day.

“She is only taking one meal,” said her father, Ikhlas Shehadeh, who struggles to scavenge enough food to feed his baby girl. “She spent a long time without any milk. This child is suffering from the inability to move,” he told CNN on Tuesday. “We do not know what to do.”

The babies of thousands of women “who are due to give birth in the next month in the Gaza Strip are at risk of dying,” the UNICEF State of Palestine Humanitarian Situation report said on Tuesday. At least 5,500 pregnant women “do not have access to prenatal or postnatal check-ups because of bombings and need to flee for safety,” the report said.

“Anxiety is also leading to premature births,” the report added, citing the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF.) The report also said over 90% of children “aged 6-23 months and pregnant, breastfeeding women face severe food poverty with access to two or fewer food groups per day.”

Food shortages are reportedly the worst in northern Gaza, where Israel concentrated its military offensive in the early days of the war. Child malnutrition in the region is about three times higher than in southern Gaza, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Screenings at health facilities there have previously found at least one in six children under the age of two are acutely malnourished, said Richard Peeperkorn, WHO representative for the territory. He warned those figures are “likely to be greater today.” Pregnant and breastfeeding women also face “grave threats to their health” caused by malnutrition, the Global Nutrition Cluster, an alliance of NGOs, reported in February.

“There are babies who died in their mothers’ wombs, and surgeries were performed to remove the dead fetuses,” he said on Monday. “Mothers are not eating because of the conditions we are living in, and this affects the infants … There are causes of many children suffering from dehydration and malnutrition, leading to death.”

Israel’s bombardment has forcibly displaced at least 1.7 million Palestinians, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Many of those who fled the fighting are crammed into overwhelmed shelters without basic sanitation, leading to the spread of infections. Malnourished children, especially those with severe malnutrition, are at greater risk of dying from illnesses like diarrhea and pneumonia, according to the World Health Organization.

Another doctor in northern Gaza, Ahmad Salem, said patients in intensive care and neonatal units were dying from malnutrition and a lack of oxygen, which are difficult to administer amid fuel shortages. “We suffer from starvation of mothers,” the medical worker in the Kamal Adwan Hospital told CNN. “We cannot find an alternative to mother’s milk, which leads to the death of those children.”

Mohammed Hamouda, a displaced health worker in Rafah, told CNN that his friend, a doctor at Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza, is unable to treat wounded patients because he is exhausted from hunger.

“If the situation is still like this, in the next week or the next two weeks, I think many thousands of babies will die, and many thousands of elderly and pregnant women will die,” he added.

‘We have become like dogs’

Footage obtained by CNN shows scores of desperate civilians clambering over each other to grab ration packs from aid drops in northern Gaza.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt sent 42 tons of medical supplies and food via airplanes in the region, the Emirati Ministry of Defense said. The US military said it had, alongside the Royal Jordanian Air Force, parachuted more than 36,800 meals into northern Gaza that day.

But human rights groups criticized the drops as inefficient and a degrading way of getting aid to Gazans, urging Israeli authorities to lift controls on land crossings into the enclave. Melanie Ward, the CEO of the UK-based NGO, Medical Aid for Palestinians, urged Israel to “immediately open all crossings into Gaza for aid workers to assist those in need.”

“Only safe and unfettered access for aid and aid workers, the lifting of the siege, and an immediate ceasefire can end starvation in Gaza,” she said in a statement on Saturday.

Even when aid does make it into the strip, collecting it can be dangerous.

Israeli forces opened fire on people waiting for aid on Monday in northern Gaza, eyewitnesses told CNN, in an incident that took place shortly before midnight at the Kuwait Roundabout on Rasheed Street in Gaza City. CNN has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for comment.

Last Thursday, at least 118 people were killed while trying to access food aid in Gaza City in one of the worst single tragedies of the war so far. Palestinian health officials said Israeli troops had used live fire as hungry and desperate Palestinian civilians were gathering around food trucks, with Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, referring to the incident as an “outrageous massacre.” The Israeli military said it first opened fire with warning shots for crowd control, before firing on “looters” who came toward them. Most of the dead were killed by ramming as aid truck drivers tried to escape the gunfire and chaos, eyewitnesses and the IDF both said. CNN is unable to independently confirm the figures.

Faraj Abu Naji, whose sister gave birth to twin girls a week ago, managed to obtain just three cartons of milk for his newborn nieces in an aid drop in northern Gaza. He told CNN that he injured his foot while trying to buy flour along Al-Rashid Street.

“We thank God that there is humanitarian aid being dropped from Jordanian and Emirati planes,” he said on Tuesday. “I try as much as possible to obtain milk from the planes that drop aid so that we can provide milk for my nieces for as long as possible.

“Planes are dropping aid on northern Gaza, and we have become like dogs, running after a bone.”