GAZA — Hundreds of thousands of people still remain in the northern and central parts of Gaza, areas which have seen some of the worst fighting since the start of the Hamas-Israel war, facing relentless Israeli bombardment and having been the entry point for the start of the ground invasion.
In early January, the Israeli army claimed to have dismantled Hamas in the north and had pulled out some brigades. By mid-January, the military was sending tanks back in and fighting reignited to a level of intensity not seen since the New Year.
Further signs that Hamas has resurfaced in the north, or perhaps was never fully dismantled, come in the form of news that the Palestinian movement, ruling the Gaza Strip since 2007, is deploying police services and paying the salaries of civil servants there.
On Monday, Haaretz cited a Hamas civil defense official saying the organization's capabilities have indeed been severely damaged, but that does not mean its role has ended.
"We are trying to organize ourselves even under difficult conditions," the official said. "There are police and internal security personnel on the ground, but not in a conspicuous and open manner. Every Hamas member is a target for Israel, including police cars or people in blue uniforms. That's why it's mostly plain-clothes presence."
Four residents of Gaza City told the Associated Press last week that uniformed and plainclothes police officers had been deployed near police headquarters and other government offices in northern Gaza, including near Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest.
Food deliveries blocked
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned on Thursday that at least 300,000 people's lives are at risk in north and central Gaza because of a lack of food, according to an AFP report.
UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini said the last time the agency was allowed to deliver supplies to the area was more than two weeks ago on Jan. 23.
Other agencies providing humanitarian aid also reported blocks in getting relief into the Palestinian territory. All aid entering Gaza is inspected and approved by the Israeli army. In order to pass into the north of the enclave convoys carrying aid must pass through an Israeli army checkpoint.
"Since the beginning of the year, half of our aid missions requests to the north were denied," Lazzarini wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "The @UN has identified deep pockets of starvation and hunger in northern #Gaza where people are believed to be on the verge of famine."
UN World Food Programme (WFP) reported last Friday that it, too, had been unable to reach northern Gaza City for the third time in a week.
Georgios Petropoulos, head of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA in Gaza, said the territory was being turned "into a wasteland of hunger and despair." The few trucks that make it through are mobbed by locals, who in north Gaza are "on the edge of starvation," he told AFP on Wednesday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a visit to the region this week, made a new plea for more aid into Gaza. "Preventing access prevents lifesaving humanitarian aid," wrote Lazzarini. "With the necessary political will, this can be easily reversed."
On Wednesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Hamas' latest offer for a ceasefire and return of hostages held in the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu added that there was no alternative for Israel but to bring about the collapse of Hamas, calling their position "delusional." A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, described Netanyahu's remarks as "political bravado" that showed the Israeli leader's intention to further pursue conflict in the region.