UN warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief operations as bombings rise
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United Nations (UN) agency for Palestinian refugees warned Wednesday 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 airstrikes killed more than 750 people in Gaza between Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, where Hamas controls the government. The figures did not give a breakdown of how many of those killed were militants. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.
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 death toll, following a reported 704 killed the day before, 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.
The UN says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 600,000 crowded into UN 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 UN said it had managed to deliver some of the aid in recent days to hospitals treating the wounded. But the UN 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 conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites in the south 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 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 Admiral 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.
The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.