December 28, 2023 04:33 am | Updated 04:33 am IST – Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories
The Hamas-run Gaza Strip’s health ministry said Wednesday war with Israel has killed more than 21,000, as Israel kept pounding the besieged territory with air strikes and shelling.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Gazans were in “grave peril” after more than 11 weeks of fighting — triggered by Hamas’s deadly October 7 attacks on Israel — which left most hospitals in the Palestinian territory out of action and led to “acute hunger”.
Explosions lit up the sky over the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis — a focus of heavy urban combat since the Israeli army said it had largely gained control over Gaza’s north.
The Gaza health ministry said a strike hit a house near Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis, killing 22 people. Heavy firefights also raged again around Gaza City in the north.
Gaza’s spiralling humanitarian crisis has amplified calls for an end to the hostilities.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the international community to take “urgent steps to alleviate the grave peril facing the population of Gaza and jeopardising the ability of humanitarian workers to help” the many in need.
In a statement, the WHO said “hungry people again stopped our convoys… in the hope of finding food”.
“WHO’s ability to supply medicines, medical supplies, and fuel to hospitals is being increasingly constrained by the hunger and desperation of people en route to, and within, hospitals we reach.”
Israel has repeatedly vowed to keep up the campaign to destroy Hamas, an Islamist group blacklisted as a “terrorist” organisation by the United States and the European Union.
Also Read | War pushing Gaza to famine, UN warns
The conflict erupted when Hamas gunmen attacked southern Israel, resulting in the deaths of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants also took around 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in captivity, Israel says.
Israel retaliated with a relentless bombardment and a siege of Gaza, launching a ground invasion on October 27.
At least 21,110 people have been killed, according to the latest toll issued by Gaza’s health ministry. It said 8,800 of them were children and 6,300 women.
Israel’s army blames armed groups for the high civilian death toll, charging that fighters hide in schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, or in tunnels below them.
The army said 164 soldiers have been killed inside Gaza.
The war has raised fears of a broader regional conflagration, with deadly exchanges between Israel and Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement, and Iranian calls for revenge after a strike blamed on Israel killed a senior general.
‘Don’t know where to go’
Gaza’s 2.4 million people have suffered severe shortages of water, food, fuel and medicines, with only limited aid entering the territory.
An estimated 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced, the UN says.
Also Read | Israel is fighting in the dark in Gaza
AFPTV footage showed Palestinians who had been sheltering in a UN-run school in central Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp fleeing south, seeking safety from the bombardment.
Displaced Gazans “don’t know where to go”, said one who declined to be named. “First, we’re displaced to Nuseirat, then to Rafah.”
Even schools “are no longer safe”.
“A solution must be reached… Implement a ceasefire instead of bringing in aid,” he added.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas charged in a television interview that the war “goes beyond a catastrophe and a genocide”.
“Netanyahu’s plan is to get rid of the Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority,” said Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank.
The UN Security Council called in a resolution last week for the “safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale”.
The resolution, which did not call for an immediate end to the fighting, effectively leaves Israel with operational oversight of aid deliveries.
In the far-southern city of Rafah, hundreds turned up at the Abdul Salam Yassin water company with baskets, handcarts and even a wheelchair stacked with empty bottles to get clean water.
“This was my father’s cart,” said Rafah resident Amir al-Zahhar. “He was martyred during the war. He used it to transport and sell fish, and now we are using it to transport fresh water.”
Elsewhere in Rafah, people split logs and stacked kindling as the lack of fuel forced them to burn wood for cooking and to keep warm.
Internet and telephone services that were cut on Tuesday were gradually being restored in central and southern areas of Gaza, the Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel said.
Violence has also flared across the West Bank, with more than 310 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops or settlers since October 7, the health ministry there said.
An Israeli operation in a refugee camp in the northern West Bank killed six people Wednesday, it said. The army said it had struck the Nur Shams camp from the air.
The war has reverberated across the Middle East, drawing in armed groups backed by Israel’s arch foe Iran in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Also Read | Gaza in flames: On Israel’s expanding offensive
An Israeli air strike on a Lebanon border town killed a Hezbollah fighter, the group said Wednesday, with state media reporting two of his relatives were also killed.
Hezbollah later said it launched a barrage of rockets towards northern Israel. AFPTV footage showed damage to houses and roads in the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona, where no casualties were reported.
Iran meanwhile prepared for the funeral of general Razi Moussavi — a senior commander in the Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — killed Monday in an Israeli air strike in Syria.
Tehran has vowed to avenge his death, with Guards spokesman Ramezan Sharif warning of “direct action” against Israel.
Yemen’s Huthi rebels have repeatedly fired at passing cargo ships in the Red Sea in attacks in solidarity with Hamas.
As a US-led naval coalition is deployed to secure the vital maritime route, French shipping giant CMA-CGM has resumed some transit through the Red Sea days after Danish group Maersk announced a similar return.