The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees warned on October 25 that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.
The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.
The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centres, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.
The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. could not verify the one-day death toll. “The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”
Israel said on Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before. The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 6,00,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.
Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.
The U.N. said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider of humanitarian services in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel.
Officials said they were forced to reduce their operations as they rationed what little fuel they had.
“Without fuel our trucks cannot go around to further places in the strip for distribution,” said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for the agency. “We will have to make decisions on what activities we keep or not with little fuel.”
Meanwhile, more than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities, and roughly a third of its hospitals, have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.
Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.
The Health Ministry says more than 5,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, including some 2,300 minors. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.
The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas is also holding some 222 people that it captured and brought back to Gaza.
The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south on Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.
The Israeli military said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, its jets had struck Syrian military infrastructure and mortar systems in response to rocket launches from Syria.
Israel has launched several strikes on Syria in recent days, including strikes that put the Damascus and Aleppo airports out of service, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been fighting the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah across the Lebanese border in recent weeks.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met on Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas, with intelligence and by “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. Fighting also erupted in the West Bank, which has seen a major spike in violence.
Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7 to 102.
Across central and south Gaza, where Israel told civilians to take shelter, there were multiple scenes of rescuers pulling the dead and wounded out of large piles of rubble from collapsed buildings. Graphic photos and video shot by the AP showed rescuers unearthing bodies of children from multiple ruins.
A father knelt on the floor of the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah next to the bodies of three lifeless children cocooned in bloodied sheets. Later, at the nearby morgue, workers prayed over 24 dead wrapped in body bags, several of them the size of small children.
“Buildings that collapsed on residents killed dozens at a time in several cases, witnesses said. Two families lost 47 members in a levelled home in Rafah,” the Health Ministry said.
In Gaza City, at least 19 people were killed when an airstrike hit the house of the Bahloul family, according to survivors, who said dozens more remained buried. The legs of a dead woman and another person, both still half buried, dangled out of the wreckage where workers dug through the dirt, concrete and rebar.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the proportionate response to the October 7 attack is “a total destruction” of the militants. “It is not only Israel’s right to destroy Hamas. It’s our duty,” he said.
On Wednesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if followed through with, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.
“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.
The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Mr. Guterres also said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”