GAZA STRIP – Heavy urban combat raged in and around Gaza’s biggest cities on Thursday as Israeli forces unleashed an aerial and ground blitz, leaving 350 dead in 24 hours, with the rest struggling to survive in rapidly shrinking areas of refuge.
More than 20 people were killed in apartments there late on Wednesday sheltering displaced civilians from the north, taking the Palestinian death toll since Oct 7 to 17,177.
Meanwhile, the UN aid chief on Thursday deplored the precarious state of affairs in Gaza, saying “we do not have a humanitarian operation in southern Gaza that can be called by that name anymore”.
Hamas’s media office said on Thursday that Gaza’s north was in “a state of famine due to the drying-up of basic food products.”
“The pace of the military assault in southern Gaza is a repeat of the assault in northern Gaza,” OCHA head Martin Griffiths said.
He described the aid operation in Gaza was “at best humanitarian opportunism,” where humanitarian workers were struggling to get the most essential supplies to people in dire need.
“It’s erratic. It’s undependable,” Griffiths said of the aid operation. “And frankly, it’s not sustainable”, he added.
“We’re still negotiating, and with some promising signs at the moment,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“There are promising signs now that that may be able to open soon. It would be the first miracle we’ve seen for some weeks, but would also be a huge boost to the logistical process and logistical base of a humanitarian operation,” he said about the possible opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel into northern Gaza.
Aid currently being allowed into Gaza comes through the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, which was designed for pedestrian crossings and not trucks.
Israeli rights group B’Tselem has said that the “miniscule amount of aid” allowed into the territory was “tantamount to deliberately starving the population”.
In addition, the head of medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said that Gaza faces a catastrophe extending far beyond a humanitarian crisis, describing the situation in the densely populated enclave as chaotic.
“My people on the ground keep updating me on the situation, and I can tell you that it has gone far beyond the humanitarian crisis,” Dr Christos Christou, international president of Doctors Without Borders, told reporters in Geneva.
“It is a humanitarian catastrophe. It is a chaotic situation, and I’m extremely worried that very soon people will be in a mode of just trying to survive, which will come with very severe consequences”, he added Devastation in Khan Yunis In southern Gaza’s largest city, Khan Younis, residents reported several Israeli air strikes and non-stop tank fire in the city’s east. Health officials said three people were killed there on Thursday.
Ambulances and relatives rushed the wounded, including women and children, into the city’s Nasser hospital, but even the floor space inside was already full. Two badly wounded children lay on one trolley and a dust-covered and bloodstained young boy lay screaming among the patients on the floor.
“The injuries are very severe,” said doctor Mohamed Matar. “The situation is catastrophic in all senses of the word…We can’t treat the injured in this state.”
However, those who escape violence face an increasingly desperate struggle to survive. Ibrahim, a 50-year-old writer is among hundreds of thousands of people who have fled their homes in northern Gaza to shelter with families in the southern area. He said displaced people sleeping rough or in tents were only the most visible elements of a humanitarian calamity felt by all in Gaza.
“More than once, the displaced people became angry and sometimes stormed Unrwa warehouses because hunger is no less deadly than shelling,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
He said there is no milk for infants, adding that a sack of flour had jumped from about 40 shekels ($10.8) before the crisis to 500 shekels now.
“Our cemeteries in Gaza, for example, always have trees. People in the neighborhood went in and began to saw the trees, to cut them down, to use the wood for heating and cooking”, he said. -Agencies