Iran nuclear site deep underground challenges West as talks on reviving atomic deal have stalled

Iran nuclear site deep underground challenges West as talks on reviving atomic deal have stalled
A new underground facility at the Natanz enrichment site may put centrifuges beyond the range of a massive so-called "bunker buster" bomb earlier developed by the US military. (File/AP)
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Updated 22 May 2023
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Iran nuclear site deep underground challenges West as talks on reviving atomic deal have stalled

Iran nuclear site deep underground challenges West as talks on reviving atomic deal have stalled
  • New footage shows Iran has been digging tunnels in the mountain near the Natanz nuclear site
  • The installation complicates the West’s efforts to halt Tehran from potentially developing an atomic bomb

DUBAI: Near a peak of the Zagros Mountains in central Iran, workers are building a nuclear facility so deep in the earth that it is likely beyond the range of a last-ditch US weapon designed to destroy such sites, according to experts and satellite imagery analyzed by The Associated Press.
The photos and videos from Planet Labs PBC show Iran has been digging tunnels in the mountain near the Natanz nuclear site, which has come under repeated sabotage attacks amid Tehran’s standoff with the West over its atomic program.
With Iran now producing uranium close to weapons-grade levels after the collapse of its nuclear deal with world powers, the installation complicates the West’s efforts to halt Tehran from potentially developing an atomic bomb as diplomacy over its nuclear program remains stalled.
Completion of such a facility “would be a nightmare scenario that risks igniting a new escalatory spiral,” warned Kelsey Davenport, the director of nonproliferation policy at the Washington-based Arms Control Association. “Given how close Iran is to a bomb, it has very little room to ratchet up its program without tripping US and Israeli red lines. So at this point, any further escalation increases the risk of conflict.”
The construction at the Natanz site comes five years after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear accord. Trump argued the deal did not address Tehran’s ballistic missile program, nor its support of militias across the wider Middle East.
But what it did do was strictly limit Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 3.67 percent purity, powerful enough only to power civilian power stations, and keep its stockpile to just some 300 kilograms (660 pounds).
Since the demise of the nuclear accord, Iran has said it is enriching uranium up to 60 percent, though inspectors recently discovered the country had produced uranium particles that were 83.7 percent pure. That is just a short step from reaching the 90 percent threshold of weapons-grade uranium.
As of February, international inspectors estimated Iran’s stockpile was over 10 times what it was under the Obama-era deal, with enough enriched uranium to allow Tehran to make “several” nuclear bombs, according to the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
President Joe Biden and Israel’s prime minister have said they won’t allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. “We believe diplomacy is the best way to achieve that goal, but the president has also been clear that we have not removed any option from the table,” the White House said in a statement to the AP.
The Islamic Republic denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, though officials in Tehran now openly discuss their ability to pursue one.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations, in response to questions from the AP regarding the construction, said that “Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities are transparent and under the International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.” However, Iran has been limiting access for international inspectors for years.
Iran says the new construction will replace an above-ground centrifuge manufacturing center at Natanz struck by an explosion and fire in July 2020. Tehran blamed the incident on Israel, long suspected of running sabotage campaigns against its program.
Tehran has not acknowledged any other plans for the facility, though it would have to declare the site to the IAEA if they planned to introduce uranium into it. The Vienna-based IAEA did not respond to questions about the new underground facility.
The new project is being constructed next to Natanz, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Tehran. Natanz has been a point of international concern since its existence became known two decades ago.
Protected by anti-aircraft batteries, fencing and Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, the facility sprawls across 2.7 square kilometers (1 square mile) in the country’s arid Central Plateau.
Satellite photos taken in April by Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by the AP show Iran burrowing into the Kūh-e Kolang Gaz Lā, or “Pickaxe Mountain,” which is just beyond Natanz’s southern fencing.
A different set of images analyzed by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies reveals that four entrances have been dug into the mountainside, two to the east and another two to the west. Each is 6 meters (20 feet) wide and 8 meters (26 feet) tall.
The scale of the work can be measured in large dirt mounds, two to the west and one to the east. Based on the size of the spoil piles and other satellite data, experts at the center told AP that Iran is likely building a facility at a depth of between 80 meters (260 feet) and 100 meters (328 feet). The center’s analysis, which it provided exclusively to AP, is the first to estimate the tunnel system’s depth based on satellite imagery.
The Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based nonprofit long focused on Iran’s nuclear program, suggested last year the tunnels could go even deeper.
Experts say the size of the construction project indicates Iran likely would be able to use the underground facility to enrich uranium as well — not just to build centrifuges. Those tube-shaped centrifuges, arranged in large cascades of dozens of machines, rapidly spin uranium gas to enrich it. Additional cascades spinning would allow Iran to quickly enrich uranium under the mountain’s protection.
“So the depth of the facility is a concern because it would be much harder for us. It would be much harder to destroy using conventional weapons, such as like a typical bunker buster bomb,” said Steven De La Fuente, a research associate at the center who led the analysis of the tunnel work.
The new Natanz facility is likely to be even deeper underground than Iran’s Fordo facility, another enrichment site that was exposed in 2009 by US and other world leaders. That facility sparked fears in the West that Iran was hardening its program from airstrikes.
Such underground facilities led the US to create the GBU-57 bomb, which can plow through at least 60 meters (200 feet) of earth before detonating, according to the American military. US officials reportedly have discussed using two such bombs in succession to ensure a site is destroyed. It is not clear that such a one-two punch would damage a facility as deep as the one at Natanz.
With such bombs potentially off the table, the US and its allies are left with fewer options to target the site. If diplomacy fails, sabotage attacks may resume.
Already, Natanz has been targeted by the Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, which destroyed Iranian centrifuges. Israel also is believed to have killed scientists involved in the program, struck facilities with bomb-carrying drones and launched other attacks. Israel’s government declined to comment.
Experts say such disruptive actions may push Tehran even closer to the bomb — and put its program even deeper into the mountain where airstrikes, further sabotage and spies may not be able to reach it.
“Sabotage may roll back Iran’s nuclear program in the short-term, but it is not a viable, long-term strategy for guarding against a nuclear-armed Iran,” said Davenport, the nonproliferation expert. “Driving Iran’s nuclear program further underground increases the proliferation risk.”


Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead
Updated 15 sec ago
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Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead

Biden approves military airdrops of aid into Gaza after chaotic encounter left more than 100 dead
  • Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory
  • Will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said

WASHINGTON: The US will begin airdropping humanitarian assistance into Gaza, President Joe Biden said Friday, a day after more than 100 Palestinians were killed during a chaotic encounter with Israeli troops.
The president announced the move after at least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday when witnesses said Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.
Biden said the airdrops would begin soon and that the United States was looking into additional ways to facilitate getting badly needed aid into the war-battered territory to ease the suffering of Palestinians.
“In the coming days we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies” and will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor,” Biden said.
The president twice referred to airdrops to help Ukraine, but White House officials clarified that he was referring to Gaza.
Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos and that its troops fired at some in the crowd who they believed moved toward them in a threatening way. The Israeli government has said it is investigating the matter.
Biden made the announcement while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White house.
“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” Biden said. “Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”
The White House, State Department and Pentagon had been weighing the merits of US military airdrops of assistance for several months, but had held off due to concerns that the method is inefficient, has no way of ensuring the aid gets to civilians in need and cannot make up for overland aid deliveries.
Administration officials said their preference was to further increase overland aid deliveries through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border points and to try to get Israel to open the Erez Crossing into northern Gaza.
The incident on Thursday appeared to tip the balance and push Biden to approve airdrops. White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that airdrops are difficult operations, but the acute need for aid in Gaza informed the president’s decision.
He stressed that ground routes will be continued to be used to get aid into Gaza, and that the airdrops are a supplemental effort.
“It’s not the kind of thing you want to do in a heartbeat. you want to think it through carefully,” Kirby said. He added, “There’s few military operations that are more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops”
Biden in his visit with Meloni at the White House on Friday also sought to assure European leaders that the US remains behind Ukraine even as he’s been unable to win passage of a supplemental foreign aid package that includes $60 billion for Ukraine in addition to $35 billion for Israel and Taiwan. The legislation has passed the Senate, but Republican Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to put it up for a vote in the House.
Ahead of Meloni’s visit, White House officials said they don’t have good answers for allies about finding an end to the impasse with House Republicans and reopening the American spigot of aid to Kyiv that’s badly needed as Ukraine tries to fend off Russia’s invasion.
Biden, along with top Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, strongly urged Johnson during a White House meeting this week to take up the foreign aid package, but Johnson responded by saying that Congress “must take care of America’s needs first.”
The leaders’ agenda also discussed the US, Egypt and Qatar to broker an extended ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Italy’s priorities for a G7 presidency, migrant flows into Italy from North Africa, and their countries’ China policies.
Biden said earlier this week that he was optimistic that a ceasefire deal could be reached by early next week. But he acknowledged that a prospective deal may have been set back after Israeli troops on Thursday fired on a large crowd of Palestinians racing to pull food off the aid convoy.
With Meloni by his side, Biden on Friday expressed cautious optimism that a deal can still be struck.
“We’ve been working and hopefully we’ll know shortly,” Biden said.
Meloni said solving the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was Italy’s top priority.
“We need to coordinate our actions to avoid an escalation, and this regard we fully support the US mediation efforts,” she said.


Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests
Updated 6 min 2 sec ago
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Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests

Ambassadors urge Lebanon to elect president who can articulate national interests
  • UNIFIL highlights ‘necessity of freedom of logistical movement’ to implement UN resolution

BEIRUT: The ambassadors of the Arab-International Quintet Committee on Lebanon have stressed the need to “accelerate the process of electing a new president.”

They also indicated that “there does not necessarily have to be a direct link between what’s happening in Gaza and Lebanon.”

The five ambassadors met Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday.

“What’s happening in Gaza should be a greater incentive for Lebanon to complete the process of electing a president, as it is of utmost importance for the future days,” said Egyptian Ambassador Alaa Moussa after the talks.

He was commenting on behalf of the other committee members, and added: “The challenges and commitments the region will witness require Lebanon to have a president speaking in its name.”

The committee, which comprises the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, and France, follows developments in Lebanon.

It affirmed that “in the coming period, it will seek to create once again the environment necessary, for the Lebanese political forces that have a genuine desire, to move toward ending this matter as soon as possible.”

Lebanon has been without a president since November 2022. The parliament has failed to elect one despite holding 12 electoral sessions — the last of which was in June — as candidates failed to make it to the second round of voting due to internal political disputes.

Moussa added: “The committee has a unified stance, which is our commitment to providing all possible assistance and facilitation.

“There is a renewed spirit, and we will work on this in the coming period to reach a unified position and a road map to complete the presidential election process. So far we remain optimistic."

A political observer said that the US had insisted on the restoration of stability in southern Lebanon to facilitate diplomatic efforts based on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 to end hostilities in the country.

Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that an early halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. He added he was confident that Hezbollah would announce a ceasefire if Israel did the same.

His remarks came as a new clash was reported between Iran-backed Hezbollah and UN Interim Force in Lebanon troops in the southern suburbs of Beirut on Thursday night.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said a peacekeeping vehicle on a routine logistical operation from southern Lebanon to Beirut ended up on an unplanned route.

The UNIFIL vehicle, which was carrying soldiers from a Malaysian battalion, entered the Hayy Al-Sullum area where Hezbollah members intercepted it, confiscating equipment and cameras.

Some reports said that UNIFIL staff were handed over to Hezbollah’s security committee while others claimed that they were handed over to the Lebanese army and later released.

The incident occurred amid ongoing discussions to bolster UNIFIL’s operations in the south to support the Lebanese army, while mending relations with Hezbollah.

The tension stems from Hezbollah’s objections to UNIFIL’s incursions into residential neighborhoods without being accompanied by the army.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said: “In addition to freedom of movement inside UNIFIL’s area of operations, peacekeepers have the freedom and authorization from the Lebanese government to move throughout Lebanon for administrative and logistical reasons.

“This freedom of movement is essential to implementing the UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”

Fighting has meanwhile continued between Israel and Hezbollah on the southern front.

The Israeli air force carried out noon raids on Friday on the border town of Aita Al-Shaab after a night of heavy shelling which caused extensive damage.

Israeli artillery then targeted the towns of Houla and Wazzani in the Marjayoun district.

The Lebanese Armed Forces announced that “members of an army patrol found an Israeli army drone carrying leaflets, and a specialized army unit worked to dismantle …it.”

Meanwhile, Hezbollah announced that it had shot down “an Israeli army drone in the Azziyeh valley at midnight Thursday-Friday.”


Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison
Updated 01 March 2024
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Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison

Grammy-winning Iranian singer, awarded over Mahsa Amini protest anthem, sentenced to prison
  • Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him
  • It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest”

DUBAI: An Iranian singer who won a Grammy presented by US first lady Jill Biden has been sentenced to more than three years in prison over his anthem supporting the 2022 protests over the death of Mahsa Amini.
Shervin Hajjipour posted on Instagram on Friday, the same day that Iran held its parliamentary election, what appeared to be part of the judgment against him.
It said Hajjipour received a three-year, eight-month sentence on charges of “propaganda against the system” and “encouraging people to protest.” The court issued its sentence in part because it found he hadn’t properly expressed regret over publishing the song.
It also imposed a two-year travel ban and ordered him to create a song about “US crimes,” as well as make posts about those crimes online.
Hajjipour thanked his lawyers and his agent for their support.
“I will not mention the name of the judge and the prosecutor so that they don’t get insulted and threatened, because insults and threats are not in the religion of humanity,” he wrote. “Finally, one day we will understand each other. Until then.”
Hajjipour already had served some prison time, but was out on bail pending the court’s decision. It was unclear if he had already reported to serve his sentence.
Iranian state-run media, focused on the election Friday, didn’t note Hajjipour’s sentence. Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Hajjipour’s song “Baraye,” or “For” in English, begins with: “For dancing in the streets,” “for the fear we feel when we kiss.” The lyrics list reasons that young Iranians posted online for why they had protested against Iran’s ruling theocracy after Amini’s death in September 2022, allegedly for not wearing her mandated headscarf to the liking of security forces.
The protests quickly escalated into calls to overthrow Iran’s clerical rulers. A subsequent security crackdown killed more than 500 people, with more than 22,000 detained.
Jill Biden awarded Hajjipour the Grammy’s new song for social change special merit award during the ceremony last year.
“This song became the anthem of the Mahsa Amini protests, a powerful and poetic call for freedom and women’s rights,” Biden said at the ceremony. “Shervin was arrested, but this song continues to resonate around the world with its powerful theme: Women, life, freedom.”
Hajjipour’s sentencing comes as other activists, journalists and artists have faced arrest, imprisonment and harassment since the demonstrations. Among those imprisoned is Nobel Peace Prize laureate Narges Mohammadi.
The New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran condemned Hajjipour’s sentencing Friday, and demanded Iran immediately release him from the sentence.
“This blatant violation of Shervin’s rights to free speech and expression is a grave injustice and a clear affront to human rights principles,” the center said. “His imprisonment serves as a chilling reminder of the ongoing repression faced by artists, activists and dissenting voices in Iran.”


Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy

Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy
Updated 01 March 2024
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Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy

Calls for probe, ceasefire follow Israeli gunfire near aid convoy
  • “The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on X
  • European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, also writing on X, said “every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency”

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: World leaders on Friday called for an investigation and a ceasefire nearly five months into the Gaza war, a day after dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed rushing an aid convoy.
Israeli troops opened fire as Palestinian civilians scrambled for food aid during a chaotic incident Thursday which the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said killed more than 100 people in Gaza City.
The deaths came after a World Food Programme official had warned: “If nothing changes, a famine is imminent in northern Gaza.”
The Israeli military said a “stampede” occurred when thousands of Gazans surrounded the convoy of 38 aid trucks, leading to dozens of deaths and injuries, including some who were run over.
An Israeli source acknowledged troops had opened fire on the crowd, believing it “posed a threat.”
Gaza’s health ministry called it a “massacre” and said 112 people were killed and more than 750 others wounded.
The fatalities helped push the total number of Palestinian war dead in Gaza to 30,228 mostly women and children, according to the ministry’s latest toll.
Overnight Thursday-Friday 83 people were killed in strikes, the ministry said.
The war began on October 7 with an unprecedented Hamas attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show.
Israel’s military says 242 soldiers have died in Gaza since ground operations began in late October.
“The Israeli army must fully investigate how the mass panic and shooting could have happened,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X.
Her French counterpart Stephane Sejourne said: “there will have to be an independent probe to determine what happened,” and Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani urged Israel “to protect the people in Gaza and to rigorously ascertain facts and responsibilities.”
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, also writing on X, said “every effort must be made to investigate what happened and ensure transparency.”
The head of Libya’s Presidential Council, Mohamed el-Manfi, appealed for “an urgent investigation” by the United Nations Security Council into the “unprecedented crime.”
US President Joe Biden — whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel — said Washington was checking “two competing versions” of the incident.
Aerial footage of the incident made clear “just how desperate the situation on the ground is,” a US State Department spokesman said. Washington was pushing Israel to allow in more aid, he said.
The Gaza City aid incident came with talks progressing toward a ceasefire, but would now complicate those efforts, Biden said.
The White House later said it had asked Israel to probe the “tremendously alarming” deaths. Deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton said the event “needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Qatar’s foreign ministry condemned “in the strongest terms the heinous massacre committed by the Israeli occupation” and called for “urgent international action” to halt the fighting in Gaza.
Further afield, in South America, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced the suspension of arms purchases from Israel after the “genocide” in Gaza City.
While the situation is particularly acute in Gaza’s north, Gazans are struggling for food, water and medical care throughout the territory including in far-south Rafah where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.
Israel is threatening to send in troops against Hamas fighters in Rafah.
Information conflicted on what exactly unfolded in Gaza City.
A witness, declining to be named for safety reasons, said the violence began when thousands of people rushed toward aid trucks, leading soldiers to open fire when “people came too close” to tanks.
Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military had fired “a few warning shots” to try to disperse a “mob” that had “ambushed” the aid trucks.
“Thousands of Gazans” swarmed the trucks, “violently pushing and even trampling other Gazans to death, looting the humanitarian supplies,” he said.
When the crowd got too big, he said the convoy tried to retreat and “the unfortunate incident resulted in dozens of Gazans killed and injured.”
Aerial images released by the Israeli army showed what it said were scores of people surrounding aid trucks in the city.
Ali Awad Ashqir, who said he had gone to get some food for his starving family, told AFP he had been waiting for two hours when trucks began to arrive.
“The moment they arrived, the occupation army fired artillery shells and guns,” he said.
Hagari denied Israeli forces carried out any shelling or strikes at the time.
Looting of aid trucks has previously occurred in northern Gaza, where residents have taken to eating animal fodder and even leaves to stave off starvation.
The chief of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said no UN agency had been involved in Thursday’s aid delivery, and called the incident “another day from hell.”
Among its war aims, Israel says it is fighting to bring home 130 hostages captured by militants on October 7 who remain in Gaza, including 31 presumed dead.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under increasing pressure over the captives.
On Friday relatives and supporters of the hostages rallied outside the US embassy branch in Tel Aviv in a call for help to secure their release.
At another protest in the city on Thursday night, Alon Lee Green, 36, said things were at a crossroads.
“It’s either we are going into an eternal war that will never stop,” he said, “or we’re going to a diplomatic agreement, an Israeli-Palestinian peace.”


WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’

WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’
Updated 01 March 2024
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WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’

WHO says Gaza health system ‘more than on its knees’
  • WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva: “All the lifelines in Gaza have more or less been cut”
  • “The food supplies have been cut off deliberately. Let’s not forget that”

GENEVA: People in the Gaza Strip are risking their lives to find food, water and other supplies such is the level of hunger and despair amid the unrelenting Israeli assault, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.
“The system in Gaza is on its knees, it’s more than on its knees,” WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier told reporters in Geneva. “All the lifelines in Gaza have more or less been cut.”
Lindmeier said this had created a “desperate situation,” as seen on Thursday, when more than 100 people seeking humanitarian aid in Gaza were killed.
Gaza health authorities said Israeli forces shot dead the Palestinians as they waited for an aid delivery. Israel blamed the deaths on crowds that surrounded the aid trucks, saying victims had been trampled or run over.
“People are so desperate for food, for fresh water, for any supplies that they risk their lives in getting any food, any supplies to support their children, to support themselves,” Lindmeier said.
While aid is reaching southern parts of the Gaza Strip, it is too slow to avert a hunger crisis even there. Aid barely makes it to northern areas that are further from the main border crossing and only accessible through more active battle fronts.
“The food supplies have been cut off deliberately. Let’s not forget that,” Lindmeier said.
Israel has said the failure to get enough aid into Gaza to meet humanitarian needs is due to UN distribution failures.
A senior UN aid official told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that one quarter of the population of Gaza is one step away from famine and widespread famine could be “almost inevitable” without action.