A power blackout in the Gaza Strip caused by Israel’s “total blockade” of the besieged enclave has prompted condemnation and calls from international rights groups for urgent action as “hospitals risk turning into morgues” amid heavy Israeli bombardment.
On Wednesday, Gaza’s sole power plant ran out of fuel and shut down after Israel’s decision to cut off supplies following a multi-pronged attack by Hamas, the group running the enclave, inside Israel.
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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a medical charity, on Thursday called the escalation “abhorrent”, imploring Israel and Hamas “to reduce the suffering of civilians”.
“As Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays can’t be taken. Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues,” Fabrizio Carboni, the ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said in a statement.
“Families in Gaza are already having trouble accessing clean water. No parent wants to be forced to give a thirsty child dirty water,” he added.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza following Hamas’s attacks on southern Israel has killed four ICRC staff in the enclave, according to the charity’s spokesman.
A representative from al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Wednesday said that Israeli authorities have targeted first responders assisting civilians, and appealed to the global community for assistance.
“We are suffering … and the world is not moving a finger. This is an SOS to the whole world … you must help us,” he told reporters after it was announced that Gaza’s sole power plant has run out of fuel.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, a global rights organisation, said Israeli authorities, the occupying power over Gaza, under international law must ensure that the basic needs of the population are met.
“Instead, they have since 2007 run Gaza as an ‘open-air prison’, imposing sweeping restrictions on the movement of people and goods. In the wake of the weekend attacks [by Hamas], authorities are now closing those prison walls in further,” it said.
It also said Hamas should be brought to justice for the killings of civilians in Israel, “but depriving the entire population of Gaza of electricity and fuel for the actions of individuals is a form of collective punishment”.
“Israel’s Minister of Energy and Infrastructure has made it clear the recent Hamas attacks are ‘why we decided to stop the flow of water, electricity and fuel’. These tactics are war crimes, as is using starvation as a weapon of war,” the HRW said.
But on Thursday, Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz pledged his country would not allow basic resources or humanitarian aid into Gaza until Hamas released the people it seized during its surprise weekend attack.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” he said in a statement.
About 150 Israelis, foreigners and dual nationals were taken to the Gaza Strip by Hamas fighters as part of the Saturday attack that killed more than 1,200 people in Israel, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has in turn launched a relentless air campaign on Gaza, killing more than 1,200 people so far, Palestinian health officials say.