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Smoke billows over Khan Yunis city in the southern Gaza strip during Israeli bombardment on Wednesday Alamy Stock Photo
Middle East

UN says Gaza is now 'uninhabitable' as Western diplomats make trips to Middle East

The death toll in Gaza now stands at least 22,722 people, most of them women and children.


ISRAEL CONTINUED BOMBING southern Gaza today as the UN warned the besieged Palestinian territory has been rendered “uninhabitable” by three months of bombardment, siege and invasion.

The fighting, triggered by the 7 October attacks on southern Israel by Hamas militants, has sent tensions soaring across the region, and shows no signs of abating with the conflict entering its fourth month tomorrow.

Civilians in the Gaza Strip have borne the brunt of the violence amid widespread displacement, destruction and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

The death toll in Gaza now stands at least 22,722 people, most of them women and children, according to the Gazan health ministry. 

With swathes of the territory already reduced to rubble, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said yesterday that “Gaza has simply become uninhabitable”.

AFP correspondents reported Israeli strikes early today on the southern city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter from the fighting having been told it was safe by Israeli forces.

In Khan Younis, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) evacuated its staff and their family members from the area around the Al-Aqsa hospital following “days of artillery fighting in Gaza’ Middle Area”. 

“It is with heavy conscience that we have to evacuate while patients, hospital staff and many people seeking safety remain in the hospital premises,” says Carolina Lopez, emergency coordinator at Al-Aqsa hospital.

gaza-al-aqsa-hospital People taking shelter in the Al Aqsa hospital in Khan Younis, Gaza. MOHAMMED ABED MOHAMMED ABED

Yesterday afternoon, “a bullet heavily penetrated a wall in Al-Aqsa hospital’s intensive care unit,” the medical NGO said. 

“Over the last couple of days, drone attacks and sniper fire were just a few hundred meters from the hospital,” a spokesperson said. 

“The situation became so dangerous that some staff living in the neighbouring areas were not able to leave their houses because of the constant threats of drones and snipers,” said Lopez.

“Patient care was being affected with reduced staff at the hospital.” 

“We reiterate that Israel has an obligation under International Humanitarian Law to protect patients and staff who are still working in the only functioning hospital in Gaza’s Middle Area,” Lopez added.

On Israel’s northern border, Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it has launched its “initial response” to the killing of Hamas’s deputy chief in Beirut, which a US defence official has told AFP was carried out by Israel.

The Iran-backed group said it had targeted the Israeli military’s Meron air control base with 62 missiles, while the Israeli army reported “approximately 40 launches from Lebanon” this morning, with sirens blaring in the Galilee region.

Contacted by AFP, a military spokesperson confirmed the mountaintop base had been targeted but did not say whether it was damaged. No casualties were reported in Israel.

The Hamas-allied Lebanese movement has been trading near-daily fire with Israeli forces since early October and said the barrage was a response to Tuesday’s killing of Saleh al-Aruri in a strike on Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold.

The army said it had struck Hezbollah “military sites” in response.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said yesterday that Israeli forces were maintaining a “very high state of readiness” along the border with Lebanon following Aruri’s killing, which Israel has not claimed.

In Gaza, Hagari said, the army continues “to fight … in the north, centre and south”.

Palestinian man Abu Mohammed, 60, who fled to Rafah from the central Bureij refugee camp, told AFP that as the fighting nears its fourth month, Gaza’s future appeared “dark and gloomy and very difficult”.

palestinian-residents-search-for-their-belongings-after-the-israeli-attacks-destroyed-houses-in-dair-el-balah-palestinian-residents-search-for-their-belongings-after-the-israeli-attacks-destroyed-hous People search for their belongings in the ruins of a building in Dair El-Balah camp, Gaza earlier this week. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

‘More than 20′ deaths in family 

In a statement on Saturday, the health ministry said it had recorded more than 120 deaths over the past 24 hours.

Victims of renewed Israeli bombardment were brought today to the European hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where relatives and mourners gathered.

One of them, Mohamed Awad, wept over the body of a 12-year-old boy.

He counted the deaths in his family. “My brother, his wife, his children, his relatives and the brothers of his wife – there are more than 20 martyrs,” Awad, a journalist, told AFP.

Another Palestinian journalist, Akram El-Shafei, has died at the hospital from wounds sustained in Gaza City in November, making him “the 117th journalist… killed by the Israeli occupation during this crazy war”, according to Asser Yassin of the Palestinian Media Forum.

Yassin said Israel “directly targets journalists” but that it “only increases our determination to… convey the suffering and pain” to the world.

Israeli officials have rejected allegations that the army deliberately targets members of the press.

Shafei’s condition had initially improved, said relative Magda El-Shafei, but he “needed treatment” and there was “nothing” available.

“He’s gone,” she told AFP.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the majority of the Palestinian territory’s 36 hospitals have been put out of action by the fighting, while remaining medical facilities face dire shortages.

A UN team delivered medical supplies to Gaza authorities in Khan Yunis yesterday, and WHO coordinator Sean Casey said it was “the first time we’ve been able to make this delivery in about 10 days.”

The Israeli military has said its ground and air forces had “killed numerous terrorists … and destroyed a number of tunnel shafts” in Khan Yunis over the past 24 hours.

Israel claims Hamas militants hide in a vast underground network as well as among civilians in schools and hospitals.

Hamas – listed as a “terrorist” group by the United States and the European Union – denies charges of using hospitals as shelters for its fighters.

The army said that during “a targeted raid” in Gaza City, now a largely devastated urban combat zone, troops had found military vests “concealed… in a medical clinic”.

Diplomatic push 

A number of Western diplomats are visiting countries in the Middle East today.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken landed in Turkey today at the start of his fourth regional tour since the conflict began.

He will also visit several Arab states before heading to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week, and plans to discuss with Israeli leaders “immediate measures” on aid, according to a State Department spokesman.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called on Blinken to focus his visit on “ending the aggression” and said US support for Israel has enabled “unprecedented massacres and war crimes against our people in Gaza.”

Haniyeh, based in Qatar, added in a video message shared by his office that “the future and stability of our region are closely linked to our Palestinian cause.”

The European Union foreign policy chief has warned against a regional conflict that would involve Lebanon, as border clashes intensified nearly three months into Israel’s war with Hezbollah ally Hamas.

“It is imperative to avoid regional escalation in the Middle East. It is absolutely necessary to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict,” Josep Borrell said during a press conference in Beirut with Lebanon’s foreign minister.

“I am sending this message to Israel too: nobody will win from a regional conflict,” he added.

“I think that the war can be prevented, has to be avoided and diplomacy can prevail,” Borrell told reporters.

“Diplomatic channels have to be open to signal that the war is not the only option but it is the worst option,” he said.

France’s foreign minister told her Iranian counterpart today that “Iran and its affiliates” must stop “destabilising acts” that could spark a broader conflict in the Middle East amid the war in Gaza.

During a telephone call with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Catherine Colonna “delivered a very clear message: the risk of regional conflagration has never been so great; Iran and its affiliates must immediately cease their destabilising acts”, according to a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

“Nobody would win from escalation,” it added.

With reporting from David Mac Redmond

 © AFP 2024