Gaza's hungry eat wild plant with no aid relief in sight

By Mahmoud Issa

GAZA (Reuters) - As the U.N. Security Council demands an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and concerns grow that famine may take hold, the territory's hungry civilians are foraging for a wild green plant called Khobiza for lack of anything else to eat.

It is another reminder of the suffering in the Palestinian enclave during the five months of war that followed the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, when Hamas militants killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The assault triggered a fierce response from Israel which launched air strikes and shelling in Gaza that have killed over 32,000 Palestinians, according to the enclave's health authorities - the worst conflict between Israel and Hamas, an Islamist group that runs the territory.

“All our lives -- even through (previous) wars -- we have not eaten Khobiza," said Palestinian woman Maryam Al-Attar.

"My daughters tell me, 'We want to eat bread, mother.' My heart breaks for them."

"I can't find a piece of bread for them. I go and gather some Khobiza. We have found Khobiza for now, but in the future, where will we get it from? Khobiza will run out. Where do we turn?”

Palestinians are suffering at a time when they should be observing the fasting holy month of Ramadan, like millions of other Muslims around the world who enjoy large dinners with their extended families and watch special television shows.

“We have been consumed by hunger. We have nothing to eat. We crave vegetables, fish, and meat. We fast with empty stomachs. We can no longer fast. We are dizzy from hunger. There is nothing to help the body resist,” said Umm Mohamed.

Famine is imminent and likely to occur by May in northern Gaza and could spread across the enclave by July, the world's hunger watchdog, known as the Integrated Food-Security Phase Classification (IPC), said on March 18.

Fears that Kobiza will only provide temporary relief are growing at a time when uncertainty about aid delivery is deepening, and as mediators seek to narrow gaps between Israel and Hamas over terms for a ceasefire and release of hostages.

On Monday, an Israeli government spokesperson said Israel will stop working with the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in the Gaza Strip, by far the largest relief body in Gaza, accusing the aid agency of perpetuating conflict.

Israel alleged in January that 12 of UNRWA's 13,000 staff in Gaza took part in the Oct. 7 attack. The Israeli accusations led several donor countries to suspend funding.

UNRWA fired some staff members, saying it acted in order to protect the agency's ability to deliver humanitarian assistance, and an independent internal U.N. investigation was launched.

(Writing by Michael Georgy, Editing by William Maclean)