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U.N. Warns Gaza Is Heading for Famine as Specter of Wider War Looms

The twin specters of a widening regional war and intensified suffering of civilians loomed over the Middle East on Saturday as the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen threatened to respond to American airstrikes, and a senior U.N. official warned of a “horrific” humanitarian crisis in Gaza that he said was hurtling toward famine.

An American missile strike, launched from a warship in the Red Sea, hit a radar station outside the Yemeni capital, Sana, early on Saturday. The solitary strike came about 24 hours after U.S.-led strikes against nearly 30 sites in northern and western Yemen that were intended to deter Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea.

Houthi officials tried to brush off the latest assault, saying it would have little impact on their ability to attack vessels in the Red Sea. The Houthis, who are backed by Iran, say their goal is to punish Israel for blocking humanitarian aid into Gaza — though Yemeni analysts say the crisis also presents the Houthis with a welcome distraction from rising criticism at home.

The greater risk is likely borne by ordinary Yemenis, already struggling through one of the world’s worst humanitarian calamities — a dubious distinction that now also falls to Gaza.

In northern Gaza, corpses are left in the road and starving people stop aid trucks “in search of anything they can get to survive,” Martin Griffiths, the top U.N. aid official, told the United Nations Security Council on Friday. With the risk of famine in Gaza “growing by the day,” he repeated earlier criticisms of Israel, which he said was delaying or denying permission to humanitarian convoys bringing urgently needed aid to northern Gaza.

The arrival of bitterly cold winter weather is exacerbating the struggle to survive, he said, as Israel intensifies its bombardment of areas where civilians had been told to relocate for their safety.

Israel’s government on Friday denied it was obstructing aid, saying its permission was contingent on the security situation, the security of its troops, and its efforts to prevent supplies from “falling into the hands” of Hamas, the armed Islamist group that controls Gaza. Israel launched its assault on Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack in which Israeli officials say at least 1,200 people were killed and another 240 were taken back to Gaza as hostages.

Israeli attacks have killed at least 23,000 people in Gaza since, according to the Gaza health authorities. At least 1.9 million people, or 85 percent of the population, have been forced from their homes, Mr. Griffiths said.

Like Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis have been supported, funded and armed by Iran for many years. United States officials say Iran provided the intelligence used by the Houthis to target ships 28 times in the Red Sea since mid-November, causing more than 2,000 other ships to divert onto a much longer route around Africa.

The Houthi response so far to the American-led airstrikes on Friday and Saturday has been weak: a single missile that dropped into the Red Sea about 500 yards from a passing ship on Friday. The maritime security firm Ambrey identified the ship as a Panama-flagged tanker carrying Russian oil — an apparent mistake, as Russia, an ally of Iran, had denounced the American-led strikes against the Houthis.

Houthi officials warn that a more forceful response is coming.

“Washington will deeply regret its provocative practices in the Red and Arabian Seas, as will everyone who gets involved with them,” Hezam al-Asad, a member of the Houthi political bureau, said in a phone interview after the latest American strike.

The only way for the United States to stop its attacks on shipping, he said, was “an end to the war in Gaza.”

Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York, and Patrick Kingsley from Jerusalem.

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Nathan
Nathan

Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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