Trapped in a war zone, the besieged residents of Gaza are expected face unimaginable suffering over the coming days.
In retaliation for Hamas’s lightning attacks on Israeli towns over the weekend, Israel has continued its pounding of the territory, with more than 200 air raids on commercial zones, residential areas and refugee camps.
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As of Tuesday, more than 700 Gaza Palestinians have been killed, including about 100 children. The Ministry of Health in Gaza reported nearly 4,000 people were injured.
Aid groups say that damage to water, sanitation and hygiene facilities already disrupted services to more than 400,000 people. Now Israel is squeezing Palestinians in Gaza further, extending an existing 16-year air, land and sea blockade of the territory, home to some 2.3 million people.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has announced “a complete siege” on Gaza, referring to Palestinians as “a beastly people”.
Having sealed off the territory, Israel appears set to trigger a major escalation of the conflict, with indications that it is gearing up for a ground invasion.
Israeli forces and tanks have been deployed along the border of the densely populated sliver of land, and an unprecedented 300,000 reservists have been activated.
While Israel is being supported in its retaliatory drive by the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, rights groups have expressed concern about its attempts to collectively punish the entire population of Gaza.
“Deliberate killings of civilians, hostage-taking, and collective punishment are heinous crimes that have no justification,” said Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement, making reference to both the actions of Hamas and the Israeli government. “The unlawful attacks and systematic repression that have mired the region for decades will continue, so long as human rights and accountability are disregarded.”
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group, warned that Israel’s siege would spell “utter disaster” for Palestinians in Gaza.
“There is no doubt that collective punishment is in violation of international law,” he told The Associated Press news agency. “If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because of lack of energy, electricity and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.”
Legal experts have been raising the question of whether Israel’s actions could be considered a war crime by the International Criminal Court, which announced it had jurisdiction over the occupied territory in 2021.
I agree, the language is genocidal and the conduct clearly implicates 6(c) of the ICC Statute.
— Tom Dannenbaum (@tomdannenbaum) October 9, 2023
Shelter – ‘No safe place’
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said early on Tuesday that Israeli raids razed 790 housing units and severely damaged 5,330.
According to the UN, more than 187,000 of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have left their homes – the most since a 2014 air and ground offensive by Israel uprooted about 400,000.
There are no bomb shelters in Gaza. Residents who have lost their homes have nowhere to turn except the 83 UNRWA schools across the territory. On Monday, the UN reported 137,000 Palestinians were taking shelter in these schools.
According to UNRWA, which provides services to refugees, four schools have sustained damage in Israeli attacks. On Monday, UNRWA spokesperson Abu Hasna said: “There is no safe place in Gaza.”
This is not the first time that schools sheltering civilians have been hit by Israeli bombs. In 2014, the Jabalia Elementary Girls’ School, housing 3,300 displaced Palestinian civilians, was struck, causing the deaths of 15 civilians – UNRWA had repeatedly communicated the school’s coordinates to Israeli officials to ensure its protection.
Food and water – supplies running out
UNRWA expects a “severe shortage” of drinking water in Gaza due to the cuts announced by Israeli authorities.
Efforts to organise food deliveries through Rafah – where cargo capacities are lower than other crossings into Israel – are apparently under way, according to an Egyptian official who spoke to the AP.
The World Food Programme has been delivering bread and tinned food to people sheltering in UNRWA schools.
According to one father of four young children living between the Deir el-Balah and Khan Younis refugee camps, the local market is still selling food, but basics like flour and sugar are running out fast. “Market traders are unable to reach farmers with remaining stocks of fruit and vegetables from local farmers because the roads are now too dangerous,” he told Al Jazeera.
Medical – hospitals under attack
A spokesperson with Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Monday that Israeli strikes have targeted hospitals and medical crews. Six healthcare workers have been killed and four others injured. Eight healthcare facilities have sustained damage from strikes and nine ambulances have been damaged.
“Hospitals are overcrowded with injured people, there is a shortage of drugs and [medical supplies], and a shortage of fuel for generators,” said Ayman al-Djaroucha, Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) deputy coordinator in Gaza.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health has called for a “safe corridor to ensure the entry of urgent medical aid” into Gaza’s hospitals.
The Red Crescent has delivered some medical aid to Gaza through the Rafah crossing.
Electricity – two days left
It is thought that the Gaza power plant – now the only source of electricity – could run out of fuel within days. The loss of electricity will directly affect hospitals and the water supply.
“Gaza has had only four hours of electricity in the past two days,” said Al Jazeera’s Youmna ElSayed, reporting from Gaza. “The sole power plant here is saying it can only operate for a maximum of two more days and after that. The entire Gaza Strip won’t have even one hour of electricity unless fuel enters Gaza. It’s not only civilians that are suffering the loss of electricity,” she added.
A total blackout will directly affect hospitals.
Communication – losing touch with the world
Israel has hit the headquarters of the private Palestinian Telecommunications Company, affecting landline telephone, internet and mobile phone services, making it increasingly difficult for the population to maintain contact with friends and families in the outside world.