Deaths of Children in Gaza Likely to Rise Amid Aid Snarls, U.N. Warns

Days after an aid delivery in Gaza turned into a deadly disaster, Israel pushed ahead with another convoy bound for northern Gaza on Sunday, a Palestinian businessman involved in the initiative said, as the United Nations warned that deaths of children and infants are likely to “rapidly increase” if food and medical supplies are not delivered immediately.

Izzat Aqel, the businessman, said the renewed aid delivery effort on Sunday came after only one of at least 16 trucks carrying supplies to the north a day earlier made it to Gaza City. The rest, he said, had been surrounded by desperate Gazans and emptied in the Nuseirat neighborhood in central Gaza.

COGAT, the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating aid deliveries into Gaza, said on X on Sunday that 277 trucks entered Gaza, what the agency said was the highest number of trucks to enter the enclave in a single day since the start of the war. It was unclear how many of those trucks reached northern Gaza.

Delivering supplies into Gaza, especially the north, has taken on increased urgency in recent days as the United Nations has warned that many Gazans are on the edge of famine.

Israeli officials have worked in recent days with multiple Gazan businessmen to organize private aid convoys. But a convoy that arrived in Gaza City before dawn on Thursday ended in devastation. More than 100 Palestinians were killed after many thousands of people massed around trucks laden with food and supplies, Gazan health officials said.

Israeli and Palestinian officials and witnesses offered sharply divergent accounts of the chaos. Witnesses described extensive shooting by Israeli forces, and doctors at Gaza hospitals said most of the casualties were from gunfire. The Israeli military said most of the victims were trampled in a crush of people trying to seize the cargo, although Israeli officials acknowledged that troops had opened fire at members of the crowd who, the army said, had approached “in a manner that endangered them.”

The arrangement between Palestinian businessmen and the Israeli military to run convoys into Gaza came after the World Food Program and the UNRWA said they were no longer able to deliver aid to the north, citing civilian attempts to rush aid trucks, Israeli restrictions on convoys and the poor condition of roads damaged during the war. On Saturday, the United States conducted its first airdrop of aid, although U.S. officials have said such operations cannot move supplies at the same scale as the convoys.

Vice President Kamala Harris on Sunday called for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza, saying that Hamas should agree to the six-week pause currently on the table and that Israel should increase the flow of aid into the besieged enclave amid a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

Ms. Harris’s remarks, delivered in Selma, Ala., bolstered a recent push by the Biden administration for an agreement and came a day before she was to meet with a top Israeli cabinet official involved in war planning, potentially increasing tensions after President Biden called Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack “over the top.”

Ms. Harris’s remarks were her most forceful to date on the Middle East conflict, which has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to Gazan health authorities, and put the enclave on the brink of famine.

“People in Gaza are starving,” Ms. Harris said. “The conditions are inhumane. And our common humanity compels us to act.”

She added: “Given the immense scale of suffering in Gaza, there must be an immediate cease-fire,” a line that drew loud applause

Gaza’s health ministry said on Sunday that 15 children have died in recent days from what it described as malnutrition and dehydration at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north. The ministry did not provide further details about the deaths, but said the hospital had run out of oxygen and fuel to power its generators and was barely operating, with very limited supplies. It added in a statement that the lives of six other children in the intensive care unit were in danger from malnutrition and dehydration.

Adele Khodr, UNICEF’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Sunday that one in six children under 2 in Gaza were acutely malnourished.

“These tragic and horrific deaths are man-made, predictable and entirely preventable,” she said of the deaths reported at Kamal Adwan.

The United Nations and aid agencies say a cease-fire is necessary for help to reach Gazans isolated by more than four months of fighting.

Talks toward a pause in fighting continued on Sunday in Cairo, but a breakthrough did not appear imminent. Hamas sent representatives but no Israeli officials were present.

Israel decided against sending a delegation to Cairo after the Qatari prime minister told the chief of Israel’s Mossad on Sunday morning that Hamas had refused an Israeli request to provide a list of the hostages who were seized in the Oct. 7 invasion and still alive, said an Israeli official familiar with the talks who was not authorized to speak publicly on the topic.

Another factor that figured into Israel’s decision was that Hamas declined to consent to the terms for swapping hostages for Palestinian prisoners that the United States presented in Paris about 10 days ago, said two Israeli officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The U.S. outline entailed Israel releasing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 40 hostages, with different numbers of prisoners being traded for different categories of hostages, according to two officials with knowledge of the negotiations.

Basem Naim, a Hamas official, declined to respond to the claims about the group’s refusals.

The United States has been pushing for a cease-fire ahead of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that starts in about a week, but progress in the talks has been slow.

As a measure of the desperation in Gaza, Palestinians were still gathering over the weekend at the same spot on the coast where the deadly incident unfolded on Thursday, hoping that more aid would come.

“Even after the massacre people are still going to Al-Rashid Street every day and will continue to until they secure any aid,” said Ghada Ikrayyem, 23, a resident of northern Gaza. “We expected people to be scared after what happened on Thursday but we were surprised to see that even more people were going there now.”

Ms. Ikrayyem’s brother Muhammed, 30, who is deaf and mute, slept on the beach for three days awaiting the aid trucks, she said. After dodging bullets on Thursday, he managed to come home with a 25-kilogram bag of flour that 50 members of his family sheltering together were now rationing and mixing with animal feed to make it last as long as possible.

“He came home terrified, he saw dead bodies everywhere,” said Ms. Ikrayyem in a telephone interview on Sunday. Despite narrowly avoiding death on Thursday, Muhammed has returned to the same spot every day since, hoping to secure another bag of flour, she added.

The threat of famine comes as fighting continues in Gaza, especially in the south.

An Israeli strike on Saturday outside a hospital in Rafah, near the border with Egypt, killed at least 11 people and injured dozens of other displaced Palestinians, including children, who were sheltering in tents nearby, the Gaza Health Ministry said.

At least two health care workers, including a paramedic, were among those killed after the strike near the gate of the Emirati maternity hospital, the health ministry said.

Photos taken by news agencies showed colleagues of the paramedic, whom the health ministry identified as Abdul Fattah Abu Marai, taking his body to the nearby Kuwaiti hospital, as well as injured children lying on stretchers as other children looked on and cried.

The Israeli military said later Saturday that, with help from Israel’s domestic security agency, it had carried out a “precision strike” against “Islamic Jihad terrorists” near the hospital. The military declined to respond to reports that the strike had injured children.

More than 21 weeks after fighting began with the Oct. 7 Hamas-led raid into Israel that, according to Israeli officials, killed 1,200 people, the repercussions of the war, continue to ripple across the region.

On Saturday, a British-owned cargo ship, the Rubymar, sank in the Red Sea about two weeks after being damaged in a missile attack by the Iran-backed Houthi militia, which says it is striking ships in an effort to put pressure on Israel to end its military siege in Gaza.

The U.S. military’s Central Command confirmed the Rubymar’s sinking in a statement on social media. It said the ship sank early Saturday carrying a load of 21,000 metric tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer that now “presents an environmental risk in the Red Sea.”

Erica L. Greencontributed reporting from Selma, Ala., andAnushka Patil also contributed.