European Union leaders have stopped short of calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, instead appealing for humanitarian “pauses” to provide aid, as the UN warned its operations were being “paralyzed” by Israel’s bombardment of the besieged enclave.
The communique, released after meetings Thursday in Brussels, follows several failed attempts by the UN Security Council to pass a resolution on the Israel-Hamas war, with member states preparing to vote on another draft resolution – this time put forward by Jordan on behalf of Arab states – on Friday.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told diplomats gathered at the United Nations Assembly Hall that “collective punishment is not self-defense.” The resolution calls for a “cessation of hostilities,” the release of hostages, and the rejection of “any attempts at forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population.”
More than 2 million people trapped in Gaza are living through a deepening humanitarian crisis, hastened by daily airstrikes and an Israeli blockade of life-saving fuel. Israel says Hamas is stockpiling fuel for its own use and has called on the militant Palestinian group that governs Gaza to share it. Health services have been crippled by power shortages and hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes amid the bombing.
Israeli strikes have killed more than 7,028 people in Gaza, including thousands of children, since October 7, according to figures released Thursday by the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Pressure is building on the international community to persuade Israel to allow desperately needed aid into Gaza; the United Nations and several countries in the region have called for an immediate ceasefire, while others advocate for a “humanitarian pause” in fighting.
But the world has so far failed to unite around a common position on the crisis, nearly three weeks since the outbreak of violence, sparked by Hamas’ brutal October 7 terror attacks and kidnapping rampage that killed over 1,400 people in Israel and saw over 200 people taken to Gaza as hostages.
Israeli ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan on Thursday said requests for a ceasefire were “not an attempt for peace,” but “an attempt to tie Israel’s hands, preventing us from eliminating a huge threat to our citizens.”
“Israel is not at war with human beings, we are at war with monsters,” he added, saying, “our goal is to completely eradicate Hamas’s capability and we will use every means at our disposal to accomplish this.”
His comments came as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel’s forces are preparing for the “next stages” in its war against Hamas, which is widely expected to come in the form of a ground incursion.
“The maneuvering will begin when the conditions are right. These conditions are complex because so is the campaign. The troops are ready,” Gallant said in a briefing in Tel Aviv.
For a second night, Israel’s military conducted “targeted raids” in northern Gaza overnight on Friday after vowing to continue ground raids over the coming days.
The raids included aircraft and artillery strikes in the area of Shaja’iyah, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said. Video published by the IDF showed tanks and armored vehicles moving on a road near agricultural land as well as strikes on buildings and open areas.
The incursions are intended to kill Hamas militants, lay the foundations for an all-out invasion and neutralize explosive devices and reconnaissance posts, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, six people were injured when a rocket struck the Red Sea resort city of Taba, in Egypt, early on Friday, according to official sources cited by Egypt-affiliated Al-Qahera News.
The rocket hit an ambulance building and a residential area of the hospital’s administration in the city, which shares its border with Israel. It is unclear yet who fired the rocket.
IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing Friday that Israel will cooperate with Egypt and the US to “tighten the defense in the region against threats from the Red Sea area.” Hagari said an aerial “threat” had been detected in the Red Sea area, which he said he believed was the cause of the strike in Egypt.
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
List of Gazans killed
The health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza on Thursday published a 212-page report listing thousands of names described as “documented deaths since October 7” in Gaza which it blamed on Israeli military “aggression.”
The ministry said the death toll is likely to be much higher and said its report excludes casualties who have not been identified, those buried without being brought to hospital for registration, or those still missing – who number around 1,600.
The list, which does not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants but which does list age, sex and the victim’s ID card number, followed US President Joe Biden’s comments that he had “no confidence” in the figures of civilian casualties reported by the Gaza Health Ministry.
Israel, along with the US, has expressed doubts about the casualty numbers being reported out of Gaza, but has not provided evidence that they are exaggerated.
White House spokesman John Kirby called the Gaza-based ministry “a front for Hamas,” though when asked he did not dispute that thousands of Palestinians, many innocent civilians, had been killed.
The prime minister of the US-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said the PA’s own health authority considers the numbers to be “correct.”
“They are our numbers,” Shtayyeh said in an interview Thursday with Al Jazeera. “These numbers are fed to us from the hospitals of Gaza every single day (and) are received by our Ministry of Health.”
The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority is run by a rival faction to Hamas, and operates the umbrella Ministry of Health which maintains a relationship with the ministry in Gaza. Death tolls for Gaza are released both in Gaza and Ramallah daily.
UN agency ‘paralyzed’ by lack of fuel
Israel has also accused Hamas of controlling life-saving fuel supplies in Gaza, as basic services such as hospitals, bakeries and UN humanitarian operations are on the verge of shutting down due to a lack of fuel.
Juliette Touma, the communications director for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), said the agency will be forced to halt operations altogether if it does not get enough fuel – crucial for generating power for hospitals and desalinating water.
“UNRWA continues to struggle with very limited and dwindling fuel supplies,” Touma said. “Rationing of deliveries continues, including to medical facilities and bakeries. UNRWA is being paralyzed due to the lack of fuel deliveries into the Gaza Strip.”
The IDF said that the problem is not a lack of fuel in Gaza, but that it is in the hands of Hamas.
“Some of it was stockpiled before, some of it stolen from the UN, some of it’s stolen by Hamas from private vendors,” he said.
Israel continues to block deliveries of fuel altogether to Gaza, saying that Hamas would only divert it for military use.
With fuel rapidly running out, UNWRA is being forced to make difficult decisions over diverting power between bakeries and hospital wards with more than 600,000 people now displaced and relying on a single piece of bread each day, Alrifai added.
Twelve aid trucks carrying water, food, medicine and medical supplies – but no fuel – entered Gaza from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Thursday, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS).
A total of 74 trucks have entered the strip since humanitarian aid transfers resumed several days ago, PRCS said.
In normal times, the figure would be about 455 per day, the United Nations has said, meaning basic supplies are trickling into the enclave at a much slower pace than needed.
The head of UNRWA warned the current aid provisions to Gaza were just for “show” and “nothing more than crumbs,” as he warned that hunger and disease were becoming major issues in the besieged enclave.
“Over the last week, I followed closely the focus about the number of trucks entering Gaza. Many of us saw in these trucks a glimmer of hope. This is, however, becoming a distraction,” Philippe Lazzarini said at a press conference in Jerusalem on Friday.
“We should avoid conveying the message that few trucks a day means the siege is lifted for humanitarian aid. This is not true,” Lazzarini added. “The current system in place is geared to fail. What is needed is meaningful and non-interrupted aid flow.”
This story is developing and is being updated.