UN agency in Gaza says one in three children under 2 is acutely malnourished

Displaced Palestinians gather to collect food donated by a charity before an iftar meal, on the first day of Ramadan in Rafah. (AFP)

One in three children under the age of 2 in northern Gaza is now acutely malnourished and famine is looming, the main UN agency operating in the Palestinian enclave said on Saturday.

More than five months into Israel's air and ground campaign in Gaza, much of the enclave is in ruins with most of its 2.3 million population displaced and facing a major humanitarian crisis.

Hospitals in Gaza have reported some children dying of malnutrition and dehydration.

The international food insecurity watchdog, the IPC, is expected to report soon on the extent of the hunger crisis in Gaza after saying in December there was a risk of famine in the projection period through May.

For the IPC to declare famine, at least 20 per cent of the population must be suffering extreme food shortages, with one in three children acutely malnourished and two people out of every 10,000 dying daily from starvation or malnutrition and disease.

Western countries have called on Israel to do more to allow in aid, with the UN saying it faced "overwhelming obstacles" including crossing closures, onerous vetting, restrictions on movement and unrest inside Gaza.

Air and sea relief deliveries into Gaza have started, but aid agencies say these are no substitute for bringing in supplies by land.

Israel has accused UNRWA of complicity with Hamas, saying some staff members took part in the October 7 attack and calling for the agency to be dismantled. Several major donors have paused funding over the allegations.

UNRWA denies complicity with Hamas and said in February that it had dismissed 12 of its 13,000 staff in Gaza shortly after Israel accused them of involvement. The UN oversight body and UNRWA itself have launched investigations that have yet to report.

European Union humanitarian chief Janez Lenarcic said on Thursday he had seen no evidence from Israel yet to back up its accusations.

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