North Gazans scrounge animal feed for flour as markets empty

GAZA – In the two weeks since Israeli troops scaled back operations in northern Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are emerging from hiding only to adjust to a grim reality – that food is scarce. 

As the Hamas police force also stirs back into partial operation, its officers are touring markets and issuing orders to keep prices down.

A kilogram of lentils must not be priced above 12 shekels (S$4.37), they say, and nothing more than eight shekels for the same amount of rice.

But there are so few of these staples that the instructions are meaningless, said Mr Youssef Fares, a journalist who did not heed Israel’s evacuation orders and has been living with his siblings and their families in Jabalia, Gaza’s largest refugee camp just north of the city. 

Mostly what is available – seasoning, coffee creamer, candy and gum – is of no use, he said.

That has led some to gather dwindling animal fodder – corn, wheat and barley – and grind it into flour. Others are venturing into abandoned farm fields to forage for wild greens such as spinach, chard and sorrel. 

“People risk their lives to collect these herbs,” said resident Ryad Asaliya.

He added that he mostly depends on lemons for sustenance, since they are in season.

His current diet primarily consists of “lemon with salt, lemon with red chilli paste and pickled lemon”. 

After Hamas attacked Israel on Oct 7, Israeli forces responded with a ground and air assault, sealing off the territory and cutting off food, water, fuel and medicine to some two million people who call the Gaza Strip home.

The United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said starvation is setting in across the coastal strip.

In a report on Jan 16, it said: “Gazans now make up 80 per cent of all people facing famine or catastrophic hunger worldwide, marking an unparalleled humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.”

Israel said it is stepping up aid entering Gaza, by facilitating the delivery of medical supplies and hundreds of trucks with food.

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