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WFP Ramps Up Food Aid in Gaza

The World Food Program says many more people in Gaza are in need of food assistance now than before the three-week war with Israel began at the end of December. The U.N. agency says it will be providing food assistance to 365,000 non-refugee Palestinians, an increase of 100,000.

Gaza has a population of 1.5 million. Practically everyone is in need of international food assistance. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency cares for three-quarters of a million Palestinian refugees.

The World Food Program will assist 365,000 Palestinians or 80 percent of the non-refugee population.

WFP Middle East Regional Director Daly Belgasmi was in Gaza just before the war began. He says the situation was dire then, but it is worse now.

"Basic commodities remain in short supply and especially grain. The bakeries, they do not have sufficient wheat flour and the price of bread in many areas has doubled since the conflict began," said Belgasmi. "Many people are running out of money to buy their limited stock, which is available in the market. And, there is a serious shortfall of transport, food, and water in Gaza today."

Belgasmi says 400,000 people do not have running water. He says the lack of potable water could lead to water-borne diseases.

The World Food Program is renewing its appeal to Israel to open all five crossing points into Gaza. It says this is crucial for getting needed quantities of humanitarian assistance into the Palestinian territory.

WFP Official Belgasmi says things are moving better now than they were before the war, but they still are not satisfactory.

"The situation on the crossing point is still quite volatile because of security reasons, because of bombs that may not have exploded," added Belgasmi. "And, we are working with others to look at this matter."

Belgasmi says the World Food Program has about 4,000 metric tons of food in Gaza, which will last a few weeks. He says the agency's operation is just getting up to speed. He says 216,000 people have been reached.

School has re-opened in Gaza and he says the WFP school-feeding program for thousands of hungry children has resumed. He says the agency is providing ready-to-eat meals that include fortified date bars and high-energy biscuits. He notes this food is highly nutritious and practical for people who have no means to cook.

The World Food Program says it needs $8 million to carry out its humanitarian operation for the rest of the year.