Aid agencies are calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as doctors warn an Israeli blockade on fuel means many more vulnerable babies and wounded people in hospitals will soon die. One agency says at least 2,000 children in Gaza have been killed in the past few weeks.
Israel has intensified its bombing campaign in the besieged strip as its defense minister Yoav Gallant said Monday the country is preparing for a “multilateral operation” on the militant group Hamas that controls Gaza from the “air, ground, and sea.”
Israel’s leadership has vowed to wipe out Hamas in response to its October 7 deadly terror attacks and kidnap rampage in which 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 200 taken hostage.
On Monday, Hamas freed two Israeli citizens – both elderly women – amid growing international pressure to secure the release of the rest of those abducted and taken to Gaza.
Save the Children said Monday that over 1 million children are “trapped” in Gaza with no safe place to go and warned of the devastating impacts of lacking medication and electricity to power vital health infrastructure in the enclave.
“At least 2,000 children have been killed in Gaza over the past 17 days, and a further 27 killed in the West Bank,” the aid agency said on Monday.
“We call on all parties to take immediate steps to protect the lives of children, and on the international community to support those efforts,” Save the Children said, adding that Israeli airstrikes are “killing and injuring children indiscriminately.”
Latest figures from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said the death toll resulting from Israeli strikes on the strip has reached at least 5,087, including 2,055 children.
“The health system [in Gaza] has reached the worst stage in its history,” said health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra in a statement early Tuesday.
Fuel is a lifeline
Fuel means life in Gaza. Without fuel, water cannot be pumped or desalinated, generators that power hospitals – that keep incubators, ventilators and dialysis machines running and to sterilize surgical equipment – will fail.
Twelve hospitals and 32 medical centers are now out of service after Israeli strikes and fuel depletion, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza. Early Tuesday, the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza had no electricity due to the fuel shortage, Hamas said.
Despite the urgency, no fuel trucks have entered Gaza as part of a humanitarian aid convoy from Egypt’s Rafah border crossing over the weekend, according to Israeli and UN authorities.
Israel has repeatedly said fuel would be purloined by Hamas for its own war effort, including rocket attacks.
“At the moment we have no interest in more fuel going to the Hamas military machine and we have not authorized fuel, we have authorized medicine, we have authorized water. We’ve authorized foodstuffs, we’ve not authorized anything else,” Regev said.
“The government decision is that fuel doesn’t go in because it will be stolen by Hamas and it’ll be used by them to power rockets that are fired into Israel to kill our people.”
However, US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday that while the UN is “watching closely” for signs that Hamas is diverting humanitarian aid meant for civilians in Gaza, they have not reported any such signs to date.
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
Hospitals could become ‘mass graves’
In Gaza, outbreaks of smallpox, scabies, and diarrhea have emerged due to the deteriorating health environment, lack of sanitation, and consumption of water from unsafe sources, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health based in the occupied West Bank.
Hospitals are nearing collapse, operating at more than 150% of their capacity and situations have become so dire that surgeries are being conducted without anesthesia, and in some cases, under the illumination of phone lights, the Palestinian Authority health ministry added.
Around 50,000 pregnant women are struggling to access health care, with about 166 unsafe births happening daily, and more than 5,000 women due to give birth in the next month, it said.
The Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City – the largest hospital in the enclave – has enough fuel to last a maximum of two days, according to senior surgeon Marwan Abusada on Monday.
Conditions in Al-Shifa are dire, with another doctor saying that without electricity, the hospital “will just be a mass grave” and “there’s nothing to do for these wounded.”
The overwhelmed hospital has run out of burns dressings for the more than 100 patients in the facility with burns covering over 40% of their bodies, Abu-Sittah said. More than 150 patients on ventilators with critical injuries are relying on electricity to stay alive, he said.
Hospitals across Gaza are facing similar situations.
Hatem Edhair, head of Neonatal ICU at Nasser Medical Complex, said all non-emergency facilities have been turned off, as well as lights and air conditioning.
He said 11 babies – most weighing under 1.5 kilograms – are in his neonatal intensive care unit, with admission rates rising as residents from northern Gaza flee south.
Twenty more trucks carrying vital relief aid crossed into Gaza Monday, but aid agencies warn that the current rate of delivery will do little to address the needs of more than 2 million people living in the enclave.
That’s half of 1% – or one two-hundredth – of the amount of aid it ordinarily receives.
Family members welcomed the release of two elderly hostages from Hamas custody Monday, while relatives of the hundreds of others captives in unknown conditions in Gaza face an agonizing wait for news of loves ones being held at gunpoint.
Israeli citizens Nurit Cooper, 79, and Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, were released following Qatari and Egyptian mediation, according to two Israeli officials and two other sources briefed on the matter.
The women were abducted from their homes in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, a statement from Israel’s prime minister’s office said. Their spouses – Cooper’s 85-year-old husband Amiram and Lifshitz’s 83-year-old husband Oded – were kidnapped alongside them and are still held by Hamas, it added.
Around a quarter of residents from Nir Oz were killed or taken hostage in Hamas’ onslaught.
Their release follows that of two American hostages, Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan, who were freed on Friday.
“She is talking, she can walk, she can hug her grandchildren, which we are very happy from that,” Daniel Lifshitz said after meeting his grandmother in Tel Aviv.
Asked about the fate of his grandfather held by Hamas, Lifshitz said, “now my grandmother is back but still now I’m more afraid about my grandfather that he’s still there, and still no men being released.”
“We don’t believe that this is the time for a ceasefire. Israel has a right to defend themselves. They still have work to do to go after Hamas leadership, we’re going to keep supporting them or giving them more security assistance,” Kirby said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.