Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip are facing a “real catastrophe”, United Nations officials warn, as Israel’s heaviest bombardment of the occupied enclave rages on for the 11th consecutive day.
In a report on Tuesday, the UN said the Israeli army continued pounding southern areas despite previously telling residents to move south ahead of a looming offensive by land, air and sea on the tiny coastal strip of land.
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It also stressed that “water remains a key issue as people will start dying without water”, a warning that came hours after the World Health Organization said there are only “24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left” in Gaza.
Residents of the besieged Strip, home to more than two million Palestinians, have already been severely struggling with little to no water to drink, shower or do laundry. They are also facing grave shortages of basic supplies including baby formula and flour, with all supermarkets out of stock.
“Concerns over dehydration and waterborne diseases are high given the collapse of water and sanitation services, including today’s shutdown of Gaza’s last functioning seawater desalination plant,” the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said in Tuesday’s report. “Fuel reserves at all hospitals across Gaza are expected to last for an additional 24 hours only. The shutdown of backup generators would place the lives of thousands of patients at serious risk.”
More than 2,800 people, including at least 1,000 children, have been killed in Israel’s bombing campaign since October 7, according to Palestinian officials. Some 10,000 others have been wounded, with many remaining buried under the rubble.
The bombardment began after fighters from Hamas, the Palestinian armed resistance movement running the Strip, launched a surprise attack just outside the besieged enclave on Israeli territory. So far, at least 1,400 people in Israel have been killed and more than 4,000 injured, according to Israeli officials.
In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has killed 61 Palestinians over the past 11 days in military raids and arrests in Palestinian neighbourhoods, towns and villages, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday morning. At least seven of those were killed by settlers.
The latest deadly raid took place at dawn on Tuesday when the Israeli army killed 17-year-old Mohammad Melhem in a raid on the town of Halhul in Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank.
In Nablus, the health ministry also announced on Tuesday the death of 72-year-old Sameer Sabra after he sustained an Israeli army gunshot wound on Friday.
Meanwhile, Israel announced on Monday night that it would begin evacuating residents of 28 mostly Jewish-only communities located about 2km away from its northern border with Lebanon as tensions and exchanges of fire with the Hezbollah armed group continue, threatening a wider, more regional war.
The evacuation will be carried out by the Israeli army and those evacuated will be accommodated in hotels and guest houses paid for by the Israeli government.
Arrests and captives
In a video statement on Monday, Abu Obaida, spokesperson for Hamas’s armed wing, said the group was holding up to 250 captives in the besieged Strip. He noted that 22 captives have so far lost their lives in Israeli bombardment.
The group also said it was holding a number of non-Israeli captives that they were prepared to release when “on-the-ground circumstances permit it.”
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal indicated on Monday that the captives were being held in hopes of releasing the roughly 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. He told Al Araby TV that Hamas “has what it needs to empty the prisons of all prisoners”.
In 2011, Israel released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was held captive in Gaza for five years.
Late on Monday, Hamas released a recorded video statement from one of the captives, a 21-year-old French-Israeli citizen who identified herself as Mia Schem and pleaded to be returned to her family.
Separately on Monday night, Israeli police arrested Nazareth-based Palestinian singer and cultural icon Dalal Abu Amneh, who holds Israeli citizenship, over a Facebook post in support of Gaza. An Israeli court ruled to extend her detention on Tuesday morning.
The Palestinian Authority Commission for Detainees Affairs said on Tuesday that Israel has arrested 680 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem since October 7, adding that 25 percent of those arrested were children and elderly men.
At least 88 people were arrested overnight on Tuesday.
On October 13, Israel amended its military orders in the occupied territories to make it easier for soldiers to arrest Palestinians on mere suspicion under the Unlawful Combatants law.