Gaza aid distribution limited by stealing and looting amid famine concerns, Israeli military official claims

About 70% of Gazans are facing "catastrophic hunger," the UN warns.

March 22, 2024, 3:26 PM

TEL AVIV -- Israel has come under withering criticism for what the United Nations says is an imminent famine in the Gaza Strip amid the war with Hamas. The Israeli military maintains a strict blockade of the Gaza Strip that bars most goods coming in, but it has said in recent days it has begun "flooding" the 140-square-mile strip with food aid.

The Israeli military claims it has allowed an average of about 150 trucks a day over the past two weeks. ABC News has not been able to independently confirm that number.

Distribution to the 70% of Gazans the UN says are experiencing "catastrophic hunger" has been limited, according to the UN, by security concerns and continued IDF operations in some of the places where the hunger is most severe and where famine may have already started – such as in the north of Gaza.

Israel's chief military spokesman Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari told ABC News in an interview that Israel has opened new entries into Gaza to allow truck traffic but that the issue is less the quantity of aid entering Gaza in than the distribution of that aid once it arrives.

People who fled the Al-Shifa hospital and its vicinity in Gaza City are driven from the central Gaza Strip further south, on March 21, 2024.
AFP via Getty Images

"It's not the trucks which are the bottleneck. The problem is the distribution," Hagari said. "And they're also failing with that because of the looting, because it is stealing. These are the two main reasons. And we need to make sure, together with the international organization, that we're working very hard with WFP in order to find solutions."

A UN official said it’s been difficult to distribute aid because the security situation in Gaza has deteriorated.

For its part, the World Food Programme's Matthew Hollinsworth told ABC News, "We can feed 2.2 million people. The entire population of Gaza right now. What do we need? We need crossings. Whether it is by road, or it's by sea. We need quick processing. We need safety of our own staff who's going to actually deliver this. And we need the safety and security of the people who are expected to receive this."

An aircraft airdrops humanitarian aid over northern Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 20, 2024.
Leo Correa/AP

That safety and security, he said, can only be achieved through a cease-fire.

The question of aid to the north of the Gaza Strip comes as Israel is on the fourth day of a raid into Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa in Gaza City. Hagari said that Israel has killed dozens of suspected Hamas fighters around the hospital complex and arrested more than 300 men.

Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Herzi Halevi walks along with other officials, during what the Israeli military says was a visit to Al Shifa hospital, Mar. 20, 2024.
Israel Defense Forces via Reuters

Hagari claims "not a single patient, civilian doctor or medic staff was hurt," and that the IDF is handing out emergency rations and water to the approximately 2,500 civilians still sheltering in the hospital complex.

Hagari and Palestinian sources in the hospital say there is currently a standoff at the hospital’s emergency department, where Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives are allegedly holed up. When asked how Israel intends to resolve the standoff, Hagari said "slowly, cautiously."

More than 1,200 people were killed when Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise terror attack on Oct. 7 in southern Israel, according to Israeli officials. More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed and nearly 74,000 injured since the war began, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.