Israeli war cabinet member Ron Dermer denies there is a famine in Gaza

21 May 2024, 19:57 | Updated: 21 May 2024, 23:25

A member of Israel's war cabinet has told Sky News there is no famine in Gaza and there "never has been".

Ron Dermer, the country's minister of strategic affairs, described the claim as "nonsense" and said there were "bustling markets" selling fruits and vegetables in the besieged territory.

It comes after the World Food Programme warned there was a "full-blown famine" in parts of Gaza due to a lack of food after eight months of war.

Cindy McCain, executive director of the UN agency, told Sky News last week that both children and adults were dying after being reduced to the "size of a skeleton" and that there were serious problems getting aid trucks into the region.

Mr Dermer said the comments were "just all false" - and also hit out at the International Criminal Court (ICC) after its prosecutor applied for an arrest warrant for Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar over alleged war crimes.

Mr Dermer told Sky News' The World With Yalda Hakim: "There is no famine in Gaza. There has never been a famine in Gaza. That is a false story.

"It is a libel, just like we are now in the international court of justice being accused of genocide. There is no genocide going on..."

He added: "The problem in Gaza is not the trucks getting into Gaza. It's food getting distributed within Gaza because Hamas, a terror organisation, is stealing it.

"Right now we are flooding Gaza with humanitarian assistance, and the markets have shown that prices have dropped about 90% on basic food items in Gaza...

"After this interview, I will ask my staff to send you pictures in the last 48 hours of markets, bustling markets, fruits and vegetables in Gaza."

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Mr Dermer said there were two pictures circulating of "children apparently starving in Gaza", but said they had "pre-existing genetic conditions that were responsible and had nothing to do with famine".

He added: "This is an outrageous attack on Israel. It is a libellous attack against Israel. We are fighting a terror organisation that is genocidal, that murdered 1,200 Israelis, took 250 hostage."

Since 7 October, more than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between non-combatants and fighters in its count.

The minister said there would be a "strong response" to the court's actions, and also praised US President Joe Biden for describing the war crimes charges as "outrageous".

He said: "There hasn't been a policy of trying to starve the population of Gaza or to target civilians in Gaza. I'm a member of the war cabinet. We've never had such a policy."

In the warrant application, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan KC pointed to comments by members of the Israeli government suggesting food be denied to civilians.

The application quoted defence minister Yoav Gallant, who said shortly after the Hamas attacks on 7 October that he had ordered a "complete siege" of Gaza City and that there would be "no electricity, no food, no fuel".

Several days later, Mr Netanyahu also said Israel would not allow humanitarian assistance "in the form of food and medicines" into Gaza through its crossings "as long as our hostages are not returned".

Sky News' US correspondent Mark Stone said that while there were food markets in southern Gaza, it was too dangerous for people in the north of the territory to travel dozens of miles through a war zone to access them.

It comes after UN secretary general António Guterres warned back in March that 1.1 million people in Gaza were "facing catastrophic hunger - the highest number of people ever recorded - anywhere, anytime".