Israel forces move into Gaza’s second-largest city


GENEVA, GAZA STRIP: The situation in the Gaza Strip is getting worse all the time and approaching humanity’s “darkest hour,” the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group’s Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and which saw around 240 hostages taken back to Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas and secure the release of all the hostages. The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza says the war has killed nearly 15,900 people in the territory.
Here are some of the key concerns being raised by the WHO and other UN agencies:
Richard Peeperkorn, the WHO’s representative in the occupied Palestinian territories, told reporters in Geneva, via video link from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, that the number of people on the move from central and southern Gaza was “vastly increasing.”
Israeli forces battled Hamas militants in southern Gaza on Tuesday, with fighting pushing civilians into a steadily shrinking area of the besieged Palestinian enclave.


Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have been made homeless by the war, and the new phase of displacement since a weeklong truce ended on Dec. 1 is worsening an already catastrophic situation.

After initially focusing on northern Gaza, the Israeli army has now sent ground forces into the south and urged civilians to evacuate.
“The situation is getting worse by the hour. There is intensified bombing going on all around, including here in the southern areas,” said Peeperkorn.
“A lot of people are desperate and almost in a permanent state of shock.”
“We are close by humanity’s darkest hour,” Peeperkorn said.
“These bombings and the senseless loss of life must stop now, and we need a sustained cease-fire.”
Early in the conflict, the WHO established two adjacent warehouses in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza but said on Tuesday it had to find a smaller one in Rafah after being advised to move by Israel’s military.
“We comply because we want to make sure that you can actually deliver essential medical supplies,” said Peeperkorn.
The WHO managed to scramble out 90 percent of the stockpile in “a panic movement.”
“And we had to abort the mission we were planning to do to bring supplies to the hospitals.
“This … should be our top priority, to get a sustained line of the most essential medical supplies, trauma supplies, essential drugs into Gaza,” and then distribute it to health facilities.
He said the amount of aid that the WHO had been able to bring into Gaza was “way too little.”
“For this kind of humanitarian disaster, where we are in an increasing disaster, we need much more supplies and equipment in,” he said.
Eighteen of the Gaza Strip’s 36 hospitals are still functioning in any capacity: Three are providing basic first aid only, while the rest are delivering partial services. Twelve of the 18 are in the south.
There are 1,400 hospital beds still available in the Gaza Strip. The WHO says 5,000 are needed.
Peeperkorn said that since the start of the war, there had been 120,000 acute respiratory infections; close to 26,000 people with scabies and lice; 86,000 cases of diarrhea, including 44,000 among children aged under five, which he said was 20 to 30 times higher than could be expected.
Meanwhile some 1,150 cases of jaundice have been recorded, along with cases of chicken pox, skin rashes and meningitis.
James Elder, spokesman for the UN children’s agency UNICEF, said that with the population on the move, in two hours “there are 5,000 people where there was noone previously. Critically in these places, there’s no sanitation.”
Speaking from Cairo after returning from Gaza, he said that in one shelter in Gaza, where 30,000 people were seeking refuge, there was one toilet for roughly every 400 people, meaning queues of up to five hours.
Israel directing civilians toward zones it has designated as safe — but which have no toilets or clean water — is creating “the perfect storm for disease outbreak,” said Elder.
“Israel is the occupying power: it’s they who have to provide food, water, medicine,” he added.
Fearful of being killed in an Israeli bombardment, families in Gaza were packing up and fleeing on Tuesday, heading for a pocket of land further south already crammed with displaced people without enough food, water or toilets.
Some were fleeing for the third or fourth time in less than two months.
Most of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people have been made homeless by the war,
and the new phase of displacement since a week-long
truce ended on Dec. 1 is worsening an already catastrophic humanitarian situation.
In Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where Israel was launching a long-awaited assault, Palestinians who had sought protection from airstrikes by camping in the grounds of the city’s Nasser Hospital were rolling up their tents and loading cars or donkey carts with piles of mats and blankets.
“We are getting ready to leave Khan Younis, heading to Rafah. We have been here for about 50 days,” said Abu Omar, a middle-aged man who left his home in the eastern part of the city and had been sheltering at the hospital camp with his family.
Rafah, further south on the border with Egypt, is one of the last remaining areas where the Israeli military has said civilians could go to escape the fighting, although it has been hit by many airstrikes.
“There is no safe place … but at the end, we head to wherever we think there might be a bit of safety,” said Abu Omar, standing by a car whose roof was piled high with possessions.
But in Rafah, displaced people said their living conditions were horrible.
“There are no bathrooms. We cannot even wash if we want to pray. There is no place for us to wash or pray. If we want to wash our kids’ hands there is no place for that. There is not even a place where you can bake or get bread,” said Enas Mosleh, sitting with her children in a shelter made out of wooden slats and transparent plastic sheets.
“We spend all night hearing rockets and bombing. We are living between life and death. We may die at any moment,” she said, her face streaked with tears.


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