February 1, 2024


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Gaza stares at looming humanitarian crisis as fears of Israeli ground offensive mount

With Israel preparing for a ground offensive in Gaza city, in its bid to “eliminate” Palestinian militant group Hamas, thousands of residents have fled to the south after the Israeli military told them to “evacuate” on Friday (October 13), for “their own safety”. For those who have stayed back, there is a worsening struggle for food, water and safety.

The Palestinian Health Ministry on Sunday said the death toll in the Gaza Strip and West Bank has mounted to 2,383  , news agency Reuters reported. At least 10,814 have been injured in the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas. In Gaza, the death toll climbed to 2,329, with 9,714 wounded, while in the West Bank, 54 were recorded dead and 1,100 wounded.

According to United Nations figures, the Gaza death toll as of now has surpassed that of the 2014 Israel-Hamas war, in which 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians, were killed.

Israel has also ordered a complete siege on Gaza, contributing to the increasing shortage of food, water, fuel, and other essentials in an area that is regularly referred to as “the world’s biggest open-air prison “. Hospitals in Gaza could potentially run out of fuel for emergency generators within two days, according to the United Nations, endangering the lives of thousands of patients.


What has the UN said in response to Israel’s relocation order

The Israeli military has repeatedly said that it is urging Palestinians to relocate to the south as it wants to clear civilians out of harm’s way. On Sunday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said, “Our war is not with the people of Gaza”, and emphasised that its objective is to “eliminate Hamas in Gaza”.

The UN and aid groups have said that a “rapid exodus” such as this one could cause “untold human suffering”.  The World Health Organisation said the evacuation “could be tantamount to a death sentence” for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals, including newborns in incubators and people in intensive care.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) said it was concerned about the Gaza residents who could not leave, “particularly pregnant women, children, older persons and persons with disabilities”. The agency also called for Israel to not target civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics and UN locations.

The UNICEF posted a video on its X (formerly known as Twitter) account, where the plight of Gaza’s children was shown. “Time is running out for children in Gaza. UNICEF is continuing to respond to their critical needs but access is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous,” the post read.

People seek refuge in Gaza’s largest hospital

An estimated 35,000 people have taken refuge in Gaza city’s largest hospital, the Shifa Hospital, ahead of the ground offensive. According to news agency AP, Mohammad Abu Selim, general director of Shifa Hospital, confirmed that massive crowds had thronged the building and the courtyard outside.

The hospital, according to an AP report, has also used up 95 per cent of its medical supplies. Salim said, “The situation inside the hospital is miserable in every sense of the word… The operating rooms don’t stop.”

“People think this is the only safe space after their homes were destroyed and they were forced to flee,” Dr Medhat Abbas, a Health Ministry official, said. “Gaza City is a frightening scene of devastation,” he was quoted by AP as saying.

Water shortage in Gaza

According to an AP report, water has stopped coming out of taps across Gaza. The report quoted Amal Abu Yahia, a 25-year-old pregnant mother in the Jabaliya refugee camp, who said that she waited “anxiously” for the few minutes when contaminated water trickles from the pipes in her basement. Yahia said she rations the water, prioritising her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She said she is drinking so little herself, she only urinates every other day.

The report added that near the coast, the only available tap water is contaminated with water from the Mediterranean Sea, because of lack of adequate sanitation facilities. According to AP, residents in Gaza city have started drinking salt water.


Why are some Gazans refusing to leave?

Even as thousands fled in Gaza, many refused to leave, citing the ‘Nakba’ or ‘catastrophe’ of 1948, when Palestinians were forced out of their homes in the war that accompanied the creation of Israel.

Shaheen, a Gaza resident, told Reuters, “They are striking us but we are not going to leave our homes and we will not be displaced.”

According to Reuters, the only route out of Gaza not under Israeli control was a checkpoint with Egypt at Rafah.

UNRWA posted on X that one of its staff members, identified as Mona, also refused to leave. “The area received messages to evacuate the area. But we will stay at our homes. We will not leave. It will be tough night.”