Palestinians in Gaza say they were forced to fast because of the siege

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Editor’s Note: A version of this story appears in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, a three-times-a-week look inside the region’s biggest stories.
CNN —A toddler wearing a red jumper plays with fairy lights that adorn tents to celebrate the start of Ramadan in a displacement camp in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza.
Her blonde curls bob between rows of Ramadan bunting, as the yellow glow of the sun marks the first day of the holy month.
Children bang on toy drums, dance and march to traditional Ramadan songs.
Nearby, women cook stew and knead dough to make bread in the neighborhood, where palm trees dot the horizon.
Residents say they thought it important to decorate the tent city for the festivities this year, as they once did in their homes and neighborhoods before they were displaced by Israel’s assault on Gaza.
But the hum of Israeli drones cuts through the festivities as a reminder that this is no ordinary Ramadan in Gaza.
Palestinians told CNN the war has crushed hopes of observing a peaceful month of fasting, festivities and worship this year.
Some are grappling with the reality that they will not find enough sustenance to break their fast as Israel’s siege diminishes critical supplies, inflicting deadly hunger on Palestinians.
Food shortages are reportedly worst in the north, where some say they are abstaining from food and water from sunrise to sunset not because of Ramadan, but because they have no other choice.
Further south, in Rafah, Palestinians say they are terrified by the threat of a potentially bloody Israeli ground offensive in the city – where most civilians have been forced to flee from bombardment.
“We wait for Ramadan because it’s a month of blessings, peace, and worship,” Aseel Mousa, 26, a journalist displaced in Rafah, told CNN.
“But this Ramadan is coming amidst genocide and famine.”Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza after the militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza, killed at least 1,200 people and abducted more than 250 others on October 7.
Since then, Israeli attacks on Gaza have killed more than 31,300 Palestinians – 72% of whom are women and children – according to the Ministry of Health in the enclave.
At least 27 people have starved to death so far, including newborn babies, pediatric doctors told CNN.
Two of those died of malnutrition during the first days of Ramadan, according to the ministry.
Palestinian children sit in front of Ramadan-themed mural in Gaza City on March 8.
AFP/Getty ImagesIsrael insists there is “no limit” on the amount of aid that can enter Gaza, but its inspection regime on aid trucks means relief is barely trickling in.
Humanitarian workers and government officials overseeing aid distribution in Gaza told CNN a clear pattern has emerged of Israeli obstruction of aid delivery.
They say Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, the agency that controls access to Gaza, has imposed arbitrary and contradictory criteria.
Human rights agencies have warned that families celebrating Ramadan in Gaza face new horrors against the backdrop of severe aid shortages, mass displacement and psychological trauma.
“Many of our friends and loved ones were buried alive under the rubble,” Mohammed Hamouda, a displaced health worker in Rafah, told CNN.
This month, dozens of displaced civilians lined the streets of Rafah to demand an immediate ceasefire before Ramadan.
Five months into the war, Palestinians in the city told CNN they are barely surviving the terror of persistent aerial bombardment.
Palestinians perform Friday prayers at the Al-Farouq Mosque, which was destroyed by Israeli bombardment, in Rafah, in southern Gaza, on March 8.
At least three women were killed on Monday in an airstrike on a home in the Al-Junaina neighborhood, east of Rafah.
Journalist Ahmad Hijazi told CNN that the bombardment struck just as members of the Al Barakat family awoke to eat suhoor – the predawn meal Muslims eat before starting their fast.
Israeli special forces had launched “targeted raids” in the Hamad area of southern Gaza on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Hamouda, a father of three, told CNN the threat of a ground assault “scares us because we are unarmed civilians.”“[We want] to see our children grow up in front of us,” he said.
Many displaced Palestinians are sheltering in crammed conditions that cannot offer basic access to sanitation.
Parents have told CNN they go hungry so their children can eat what little is available.
Palestinian children in Rafah, in southern Gaza, sell Ramadan lanterns ahead of the Islamic holy month, on February 25.
Belal Khaled/Anadolu/Getty Images‘Dire’ hunger in the northThese days, Jihad Abu Watfa, 27, finds himself riding his bicycle along the dusty streets of Beit Lahia, in northern Gaza.
“No one can afford to buy flour, neither rich nor poor, because they do not have such money,” he told CNN.
“There are many people who (already) fast like it’s Ramadan,” he told CNN in late F

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in the Middle East newsletter, which offers a three-day-a-week glimpse at the most important stories unfolding in the region. Register by clicking this link.

CNN –.

In a Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, displacement camp, a toddler in a red jumper plays with fairy lights that hang from tents to mark the beginning of Ramadan. The first day of the holy month is marked by the yellow glow of the sun, and her blonde curls bob between rows of bunting decorated with Ramadan designs.

Kids march, dance, and beat toy drums in time for Ramadan. Close by, in the neighborhood where palm trees abound, women prepare stew and knead dough for bread. Residents claim that, like they used to do in their houses and neighborhoods prior to being uprooted by Israel’s attack on Gaza, they felt it was significant to decorate the tent city for the holidays this year. It provides some semblance of normalcy for the kids.

The celebrations are interrupted by the sound of Israeli drones, signaling that this is not your typical Ramadan in Gaza. CNN was informed by Palestinians that their hopes of celebrating a calm month of fasting, celebrations, and worship this year have been dashed by the war. As vital supplies are being reduced by Israel’s siege, leaving Palestinians facing deadly hunger, some are coming to terms with the fact that they will not have enough food to break their fast.

The north is supposedly experiencing the worst food shortages; some people there claim that they are fasting from food and water from sunrise to sunset for lack of any other option. This is not because they observe Ramadan. Looking for food scraps, children frantically dig through trash. Palestinians in Rafah, further south, say they fear a bloody Israeli ground offensive in the city, where the majority of civilians have been forced to flee due to bombardment.

As a month of blessings, peace, and worship, we wait for Ramadan, a 26-year-old journalist who was uprooted from Rafah told CNN. However, famine and genocide are occurring during this Ramadan. “.

Following at least 1,200 deaths and over 250 kidnappings by Gaza’s ruling militant group Hamas on October 7, Israel began its military campaign in the region.

According to the enclave’s Ministry of Health, since then, Israeli attacks on Gaza have claimed the lives of over 31,300 Palestinians, women and children making up 72% of the dead. There have been over 73,000 injuries. Perinatologists told CNN that at least 27 people—including newborns—have already perished from starvation. The ministry said that during the first few days of Ramadan, two of those people perished from malnutrition.

March 8, Gaza City: Palestinian children sit in front of a mural with a Ramadan theme. Photos by Getty Images/AFP.

Relief is barely making its way into Gaza, despite Israel’s insistence that there is “no limit” on the amount that can enter. This is due to its inspection regime on aid trucks. A distinct pattern of Israeli obstruction of aid delivery has been observed, according to government officials supervising aid distribution in Gaza and humanitarian workers who spoke with CNN. They allege that the organization in charge of regulating entry to Gaza, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, has imposed arbitrary and inconsistent standards.

Amidst acute shortages of aid, widespread displacement, and psychological trauma, human rights organizations have cautioned that families in Gaza celebrating Ramadan may encounter new horrors.

A displaced health worker in Rafah named Mohammed Hamouda told CNN, “Many of our friends and loved ones were buried alive under the rubble.”. A portion of them have already passed away, while others are still alive. These are really hard times right now. We regret that we are still here. “.

Rafah is under attack, with no indications of a ceasefire.

Boys and girls link arms as they march through Rafah’s streets, bundled up in puffy winter coats. Stop our daily death is written on a sign that one child is carrying in English. “.

On March 6, demonstrator Rasmi Abu Al-Anin, 52, told CNN that kids in Gaza “used to wait for this month to fast, pray, play with lanterns, play in the evening, rejoice and to wait for Eid.”. “.

But now that Ramadan has arrived, all we can hear are airplanes, drones, threats, and intimidation. The man went on, “How long will this death last?

Numerous displaced civilians protested in Rafah this month, demanding an immediate ceasefire in advance of Ramadan. According to Palestinians in the city, five months into the conflict, they are barely escaping the terror of constant aerial bombardment, CNN reported.

On March 8, Palestinians in Rafah, southern Gaza, gather for Friday prayers at the Al-Farouq Mosque, which was destroyed by Israeli bombardment. Photograph Alliance/Getty Images / Mohammed Talatene.

Even worshippers were unable to observe the Islamic holy month in silence. In an airstrike on a house in the Al-Junaina neighborhood, east of Rafah, on Monday, at least three women were killed. The bombardment occurred right as the Al Barakat family was rising to eat suhoor, the predawn meal Muslims eat before breaking their fast, according to journalist Ahmad Hijazi, who spoke with CNN. The Israel Defense Forces said that on Monday, Israeli special forces conducted “targeted raids” in the southern Gaza neighborhood of Hamad.

With talks for a truce between Israel and Hamas breaking down this month, raising fears of an Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, Gazans there won’t see any relief in the near future. The prospect of a ground attack “scares us because we are unarmed civilians,” the father of three Hamouda told CNN. “.

“We aspire to witness our offspring mature before us,” he uttered. “Losing loved ones and being uprooted is what terrifies us the most. “.

According to the UN, at least 11.7 million people in Gaza have been forcibly displaced, with 1.5 million of those individuals having fled to Rafah. Numerous Palestinians who have been displaced are taking refuge in overcrowded quarters without even the most basic access to sanitary facilities. The market has limited supplies, and food costs have skyrocketed. Parents who go without food for their kids to eat what little is available have revealed to CNN that they go hungry.

This Ramadan, Hamouda claims he is finding it difficult to explain to his young children why they will not be able to celebrate with traditional Palestinian foods or receive gifts.

Before the start of the Islamic holy month on February 25, Palestinian children in Rafah, in southern Gaza, sell lanterns for Ramadan. Belal Khaled and Anadolu/Getty Images.

Northerners are hungry, “dire.”.

These days, 27-year-old Jihad Abu Watfa can be found cycling through the dusty streets of northern Gaza’s Beit Lahia. He sees the starving kids scrounging around for food, but he is powerless to assist them.

He told CNN, “Neither the rich nor the poor can afford to buy flour because they do not have such money.”. According to him, kids frequently look through the trash for food. In late February, as the holidays drew near, he told CNN, “There are many people who (already) fast like it’s Ramadan.”.

In the northern part of the enclave, where Israel focused its military assault during the early stages of the conflict, levels of critical hunger are exacerbated. Palestinians told CNN that because they cannot access nutrient-rich foods, they eat finger-sized biscuits, custard, or water-based soup flavored with herbs.

In other places, at the first sign of help, starving civilians risk their lives by frantically climbing over one another. On February 29, Israeli forces opened fire at a food distribution center in Gaza City, killing at least 118 Palestinians and sparking international outrage. Many of the victims in what has come to be known as the “flour massacre” died when they were run over by trucks in the chaos that followed the gunshots, a witness told CNN. “.

On the first day of Ramadan in Deir al-Balah, northern Gaza, a Palestinian family breaks their fast amidst the debris of their house, which was destroyed by Israeli bombardment, on March 11. Getty Images/Anadolu/Ali Jadallah.

Some are compelled to fight for packages from sporadic and inaccurate aid drops. At least five people were killed on Friday in the Al Shati camp, west of Gaza City, when airdropped parcels fell on them, according to journalist Khader Al-Za’anoun of Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency. A pallet parachute malfunctioned during an airdrop, as seen in footage obtained by CNN.

Previously, humanitarian organizations begged Israeli authorities to relax restrictions on land crossings into the enclave, denouncing the drops as an ineffective and dehumanizing method of providing aid to Gazans.

Local journalist AbdulQader Sabbah, who works for CNN in Gaza, said of the aid drops, “People are fighting over each other to get to the parachutes.”. As there would be fighting, I don’t bother to go. “.

In the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza, Palestinians could only find dates and peas to break their fast on Monday, according to Ahmed Zaida, a 27-year-old reporter for CNN. “People are turning to eating herbs around here,” he remarked. When people visit the markets early in the morning, they are unable to find anything to purchase. “.

“Grateful to God for everything.”.

When Israel bombed Gaza, hundreds of mosques were destroyed, entire neighborhoods were destroyed, and places of worship became war memorials. As of February, the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs in Gaza told CNN that at least 1,000 of the 1,200 mosques—including historic sites—had been partially or totally destroyed.

As per the ministry, since October 7, Israeli attacks on Gaza have resulted in the deaths of over 100 preachers, including religious scholars, imams, muezzins (people who lead the call to prayer), and hafiz (Muslims who have memorized the Quran).

In Rafah, southern Gaza, on March 1, Israeli strikes destroyed the al-Faruq mosque, where Palestinians perform Friday noon prayers. According to Khatib/AFP/Getty Images.

Because places of worship have been destroyed, locals told CNN they cannot find enough space to attend the nightly taraweeh prayers. Every night of Ramadan, taraweeh prayers are said in a congregation. Some people are unable to perform the required ablution before prayer due to limited access to water. Since forced relocation has split up families throughout the enclave, many are unable to eat meals together with family.

“Our extended families usually send out a lot of dinner invitations during Ramadan. Every member of the family is now in a different location, Mousa said. I can’t recall the last time I heard the call to prayer without Israeli drones making noise. “.

Muslims in Gaza told CNN that despite the immense destruction, they are committed to carrying out their daily rituals in an effort to find solace. “Next to the demolished mosques, we are praying.”. The health worker in Rafah, Hamouda, said, “We say ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is great) when we are digging the displaced people out from under the rubble.”.

Praying, giving to others, and trying our hardest are the cornerstones of our faith. “.

The date on which at least 118 Palestinians were killed at a food distribution site in Gaza City has been updated in this story.

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