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Members of a Palestinian family who fled Gaza City to Khan Yunis and had to recently flee to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, gather around a small fire, inside a workshop where they found temporary shelter. Image Credit: AFP

Amman, Jordan - Palestinians in Gaza are facing mass starvation amid a punishing Israeli offensive that has "stripped families' options for survival," aid groups warned Saturday, a day after the United States vetoed a UN cease-fire resolution that the groups said would have facilitated the delivery of food and other emergency supplies.

The warnings over spreading hunger - from the United Nations, international aid agencies and Palestinian relief workers in Gaza - compounded fears for civilians already grappling with fierce fighting, heavy Israeli bombardment, the collapse of the health system and repeated displacement.

The draft resolution, backed by a majority of the U.N. Security Council, demanded an immediate halt to hostilities, the unconditional release of all hostages and humanitarian access in Gaza. The US move to veto the resolution, which it called "rushed" and lacking in consultation, drew swift condemnation across the region, including from human rights groups, American partners in the Middle East and relief groups working in Gaza.

After the Security Council failed to "provide respite for civilians in Gaza," London-based humanitarian organization Save the Children said in a statement Saturday that it has "continued to hear harrowing accounts of families going multiple days without food, shelter, water and access to healthcare."

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People who fled Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip to Rafah further south, cook in the street near where they found temporary shelter. Image Credit: AFP

"Deliberately depriving the civilian population of food, water and fuel and willfully impeding relief supplies is using starvation as a method of warfare, which inevitably has a deadly impact on children," the group said.

The U.N. World Food Program's deputy executive director, Carl Skau, told Reuters after visiting Gaza that "half of the population are starving" and described the humanitarian needs as "massive."

Israel has escalated its offensive in southern Gaza in recent days, pushing Palestinians toward Rafah, on the border with Egypt. Hospitals and shelters in the south are overrun, and hundreds of people have been killed almost daily, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

On Saturday, the ministry said 17,700 people had been killed by Israel in Gaza since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants staged a brutal attack on Israeli communities near the border, killing at least 1,200 people.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Saturday that fighter jets and ground troops "continued combat in different locations" across the Gaza Strip. Several sirens sounded in Israeli communities near the border with Gaza, it added.

The IDF on Saturday directed residents in several neighborhoods in north Gaza to evacuate and warned that fighting raged around a stretch of the main north-south highway, Salah al-Din. The military also directed residents of various neighborhoods in Khan Younis in southern Gaza to evacuate, saying a road near the north and east of Khan Younis city had become "a battlefield" and should be avoided.

Israel says its evacuation directives are aimed at reducing civilian deaths, including through a numbered map, airdropped leaflets and social media posts. Gazans reached by The Washington Post say the Israeli orders have been vague or contradictory, often sending them to other battlefields. Other residents with little internet or phone access say they have not received warnings at all.

As they search for safety, Palestinians in Gaza said they were also struggling to buy - or even find - food. "The prices are astronomical," said Mohamad, 29, in Gaza City.

Large bags of flour that cost about $9 before the war now cost more than 10 times that - and were "not available in most cases," he said. The humanitarian aid that did reach the area - in northern Gaza - was "often stolen," he said, then resold at high prices.

Most people "enter uninhabited homes and take what they find inside." He said he had been one of them. "It is a struggle for survival."

Another Gaza resident, an employee at a relief organization, said his group was previously distributing goods it bought at the market to homes and schools in Rafah. But it was recently forced to stop because "nothing is available in the market," said the resident, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for security reasons.

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People gather amid the destruction following an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

Two days ago, people looted a storehouse belonging to UNRWA, the U.N. relief agency for Palestinian refugees, "in front of my eyes," the resident said. "There are people who have become bandits, blocking the routes of trucks with weapons and begging for aid."

"Famine in Gaza," he added, "is a matter of time."

There was also growing alarm Saturday over the safety of patients and staff members at Al-Awda Hospital, one of the last remaining medical facilities in northern Gaza. The hospital was being "besieged" by Israeli troops, according to Renzo Fricke, the head of mission for Doctors Without Borders, or MSF, which supports the hospital.

One of MSF's staff members in the hospital reported Friday that a sniper outside had killed two people at the hospital, including a volunteer nurse, Fricke said. The organization's staff had stayed at the hospital to care for patients, even as others fled northern Gaza.

Israel has argued that a cease-fire would leave Hamas in power, posing a threat to its security. The United States, Israel's unflinching ally during the war, called the cease-fire resolution "not only unrealistic but dangerous."

Robert A. Wood, the alternate US representative to the United Nations, said after the vote that it would leave Hamas "in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7."

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that the US veto made it responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinians and complicit in "genocide, ethnic cleansing and war crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces."

The US policy "has become a danger to the world, posing a threat to international peace and security," Abbas said in a statement, according to WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency. "This decision will haunt the United States for years."

The foreign minister of Oman, a country that has close relations with the United States and has helped mediate between Washington and its adversaries in the region, condemned the veto as a "shameful insult to humanitarian norms" in a post Saturday on X, formerly called Twitter.

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smoke billowing above buildings during Israeli bombardment on Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: AFP

"I deeply regret that the United States should sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians for the cause of Zionism," the minister, Sayyid Badr Albusaidi, wrote.

As the United States faced growing international pressure to support a cease-fire, the Biden administration said Saturday that it has approved a $106.5 million sale of Army tank ammunition and equipment to Israel by invoking an emergency declaration that will bypass Congress's typical review period for weapons sales.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken used the emergency declaration because "it is vital to US national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability," the State Department said in a news release.

A State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive military matter, defended the emergency measure, saying the administration has used it to send weapons to Ukraine.

"Given Israel's urgent defense needs, the secretary has determined this exercise of his delegated authority appropriate in this case as well," the official said.

Josh Paul, a former State Department official who recently resigned after working for more than a decade on arms sales issues, criticized the decision to sell the weapons without congressional approval.

"This decision to use the same extraordinary emergency authority employed by President Trump to arm the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen directly contradicts a promise that Secretary Blinken made to Congress during his confirmation hearing that he would return to regular order," Paul said.