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Gaza humanitarian crisis deepens as fighting rages on across the Strip

People displaced by fighting shelter at a health clinic in Gaza.
People displaced by fighting shelter at a health clinic in Gaza.

Gaza humanitarian crisis deepens as fighting rages on across the Strip

Peace and Security

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths reiterated deep concerns for the people of Gaza on Monday, amid reports of intense fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in Gaza City and Jabalia in the north of the Strip, and in Khan Younis in the south, while Israeli bombardment of the enclave has continued. 

Speaking in Doha at the launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview, Mr. Griffiths said that the situation was “getting worse”, while efforts to secure “moments of peace” remained of the “greatest importance”.  

According to the latest update on the emergency from UN relief coordination office (OCHA), tens of thousands of people “in desperate need of food, water, shelter, health and protection” who recently fled to Rafah in the south, had waited for hours around aid distribution centres. 

OCHA’s latest update on the violence – which began on 7 October after Hamas militants rampaged through communities in southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostage, prompting reprisal bombardment – also indicated that the lack of adequate sanitation had led to “widespread” open-air defecation, increasing fears of disease spread. 

According to the Gazan health authorities, about 18,000 people have now been killed in Gaza since the fighting began; about 70 per cent are said to be women and children; and more than 49,000 people are reportedly injured. 

‘Creative diplomacy’ needed 

Mr. Griffiths thanked Qatar for its “creative diplomacy” as part of efforts to “bring moments of peace” to the embattled enclave. 

He stressed that “the intensification of the military operation that we have been hearing about in the south of Gaza and the threats to neighbouring countries” make those efforts “all the more important”. 

Still, there seemed to be no end in sight to the hostilities triggered by Hamas’ deadly terror attacks in Israel, where “the killings, sexual violence and kidnappings by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups on 7 October traumatized an entire nation” according to a statement on Sunday from the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings. 

Israel’s retaliation for the attacks has led to a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza where some 1.9 million people, the vast majority of the population, have been displaced, aid operations are severely impeded by the fighting and only a bare minimum of fuel and relief items have been coming in. 

Aid operations compromised 

OCHA reiterated that the UN’s ability to receive incoming aid had been “significantly impaired over the past few days”, due to a shortage of trucks within Gaza, telecommunications blackouts and aid workers being prevented by the fighting from getting to the Rafah crossing through which a trickle of relief items is entering from Egypt. 

Over the weekend 150,000 litres of fuel per day on average entered from Egypt, OCHA said. This is higher than the previous daily average of 67,000 litres but still represented “the bare minimum needed to prevent the collapse of critical services” including hospitals and ambulances, water and sanitation as well as shelters for the displaced.  

Sunday also saw the arrival of some 45 tonnes of cooking gas from Egypt, “the first such delivery since the resumption of hostilities” after a seven-day ceasefire ended on 1 December, OCHA said.  

Ms. Hastings, the top UN aid official for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said on Sunday that “Israel has the obligation as the occupying power to ensure that sufficient hygiene and public health standards as well as the provision of food and medical care are available to the population under occupation.”

Much of Gaza remains in ruins following two months of bombardments.
© UNRWA/Mohammed Hinnawi
Much of Gaza remains in ruins following two months of bombardments.

Attacks on health continue 

According to OCHA, multiple health facilities and personnel were attacked across the Gaza Strip over the weekend, notably in Jabalia in the north, where two medical staff were reportedly killed while on duty inside the besieged Al Awda Hospital during clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.  

On Saturday, a World Health Organization (WHO)-led UN and Palestine Red Crescent Society convoy delivered medical supplies to Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City and evacuated 19 critically injured patients. OCHA said that the convoy was “delayed by Israeli forces at a checkpoint in Wadi Gaza” for “extensive screenings” and that one of the evacuated patients died during the trip southwards while a paramedic was detained for four hours, “during which he was interrogated and reportedly beaten and intimidated”.  

Humanitarian access to the north of the Strip where hundreds of thousands of civilians are still sheltering remains “severely constrained”, OCHA said. 

No health without peace 

In Khan Younis in the south, an ambulance near the European Hospital came under fire, reportedly by Israeli forces on Saturday, OCHA said, and two paramedics were injured. On Sunday the area around the hospital was repeatedly bombarded for the third consecutive day according to OCHA, depriving dozens of injured people from access to treatment. 

Quoting Gaza’s health authorities, OCHA said that since 7 October, at least 286 health workers have been killed and 57 ambulances have been hit and damaged. 

Meeting in a special session on Sunday, WHO’s Executive Board adopted a resolution on aid access to Gaza and respect for international humanitarian law, hailed by the agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as a “starting point” and a “platform on which to build”, as he reiterated that “without peace, there is no health”. 

Detainees ‘stripped and beaten’ 

OCHA also highlighted that over the weekend in the north of the enclave Israeli forces “reportedly detained hundreds of men and boys staying in public spaces, schools serving as shelters for internally displaced persons as well as private homes”.  

“Reportedly, detainees were stripped to their underwear, handcuffed, and ordered to sit on their knees in open areas, subjected to beatings, harassment, harsh weather and denial of basic necessities”, OCHA said, while images of them were circulated on social media.  

OCHA added that according to the Israeli military, those suspected of links to Hamas were transferred to Israel for interrogation, while others were released.