Tempers flared at the United Nations on Tuesday amid ceasefire calls, as aid groups and doctors in Gaza warn that power shortages threaten the lives of vulnerable infants and patients.
Aid agencies have been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, with one saying at least 2,000 children in Gaza have been killed in the past few weeks, as Israel intensified its bombing campaign in the besieged strip.
Israel’s defense minister Yoav Gallant said Monday the country is preparing for a “multilateral operation” on the militant group Hamas that controls Gaza from the “air, ground, and sea.”
The country’s leadership has vowed to wipe out Hamas in response to its October 7 deadly terror attacks and kidnap rampage in which 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 200 taken hostage.
Latest figures from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said the death toll resulting from Israeli strikes on the strip has reached at least 5,087, including 2,055 children.
As the humanitarian crisis in Gaza deepens, the international community has struggled to find consensus.
China, Russia and Slovenia are some of the countries to have called for ceasefire, while Brazil and Ireland have proposed humanitarian “pauses” in the fighting.
‘Even wars have rules’
Emotions ran high at the UN Security Council on Tuesday after Secretary General António Guterres appealed for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”
“Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel – and then continuing to bomb the south itself,” Guterres said.
“It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” Guterres also said. “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished.”
He said that the “appalling acts” of Hamas “cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Excellencies, even war has rules.”
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
The backlash from Israeli diplomats was swift.
Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan called on Guterres “to resign immediately” after his remarks and said he was “not fit to lead the UN,” writing on social media. And Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was at the United Nations on Tuesday, said he would not meet with Guterres and that “there is no place for a balanced approach.”
“Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet!” Cohen wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Israel’s “right to defend itself” was affirmed in the Security Council by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He added that “humanitarian pauses must be considered” to allow aid to reach civilians in Gaza – notably avoiding use of the word “ceasefire.”
Blinken also told the council that “Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians” and called on Hamas to cease using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Fuel is a lifeline
Fuel means life in Gaza. Without fuel, water cannot be pumped or desalinated, generators that power hospitals – that keep incubators, ventilators and dialysis machines running and to sterilize surgical equipment – will fail.
Six hospitals in Gaza have been forced to close due to a lack of fuel, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.
“In addition to the hospitals that have had to close due to damage and attacks, six hospitals across the Gaza Strip have already shut down due to lack of fuel,” the WHO’s statement reads.
“Unless vital fuel and additional health supplies are urgently delivered into Gaza,” the WHO warned “thousands of vulnerable patients risk death” unless “vital fuel and additional health supplies” were delivered.
Save the Children said Monday that over 1 million children are “trapped” in Gaza with no safe place to go and warned of the devastating impacts of lacking medication and electricity to power vital health infrastructure in the enclave.
And a major United Nations agency in Gaza warned that it will have to stop aid operations in Gaza on Wednesday unless fuel is allowed into the enclave.
“If we do not get fuel urgently, we will be forced to halt our operations in the #GazaStrip as of tomorrow night,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Tuesday.
Gaza needs at least 160,000 litres (42,267 gallons) of fuel a day, not just to fuel UNRWA facilities, but also to power hospitals, bakeries, and other basic necessities, a spokeswoman for the organization, Juliette Touma, said.
Despite the urgency, no fuel trucks have entered Gaza as part of a humanitarian aid convoy from Egypt’s Rafah border crossing over the weekend, according to Israeli and UN authorities.
However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff provided a glimmer of hope on Tuesday, saying efforts will be made to provide access to fuel to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. He reiterated Israel’s position that it would “not allow” the fuel to reach Hamas “so they can continue fighting against the citizens of Israel.”
“We will make sure there will be fuel in places where they need fuel to treat civilians,” said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said, without providing further detail on how the IDF might get fuel to those most in need.
“At the moment we have no interest in more fuel going to the Hamas military machine and we have not authorized fuel, we have authorized medicine, we have authorized water. We’ve authorized foodstuffs, we’ve not authorized anything else,” Regev said.
“The government decision is that fuel doesn’t go in because it will be stolen by Hamas and it’ll be used by them to power rockets that are fired into Israel to kill our people.”
The UN is “watching closely” for signs that Hamas is diverting humanitarian aid meant for civilians in Gaza, and have not reported any such signs to date, the US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday.
On Monday, Hamas freed two Israeli citizens – both older women – amid growing international pressure to secure the release of the rest of those abducted and taken to Gaza. One of the recently freed captives, 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved Lifshitz later described her ordeal after she was kidnapped by gunmen and taken to Gaza, saying she “went through hell.”
Their release follows that of two American hostages, Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan, who were freed on Friday.
Hospitals could become ‘mass graves’
In Gaza, outbreaks of chickenpox, scabies, and diarrhea have emerged due to the deteriorating health environment, lack of sanitation, and consumption of water from unsafe sources, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health based in the occupied West Bank.
Hospitals are nearing collapse, operating at more than 150% of their capacity and situations have become so dire that surgeries are being conducted without anesthesia, and in some cases, under the illumination of phone lights, the Palestinian Authority health ministry added.
Around 50,000 pregnant women are struggling to access health care, with about 166 unsafe births happening daily, and more than 5,000 women due to give birth in the next month, it said.
The Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City – the largest hospital in the enclave – has enough fuel to last a maximum of two days, according to senior surgeon Marwan Abusada on Monday.
Conditions in Al-Shifa are dire, with another doctor saying that without electricity, the hospital “will just be a mass grave” and “there’s nothing to do for these wounded.”
fire and a proper humanitarian corridor, “there’s going to be an even larger catastrophe that the one that already exists here.”
The overwhelmed hospital has run out of burns dressings for the more than 100 patients in the facility with burns covering over 40% of their bodies, Abu-Sittah said. More than 150 patients on ventilators with critical injuries are relying on electricity to stay alive, he said.
Hospitals across Gaza are facing similar situations.
Hatem Edhair, head of Neonatal ICU at Nasser Medical Complex, said all non-emergency facilities have been turned off, as well as lights and air conditioning.
He said 11 babies – most weighing under 1.5 kilograms – are in his neonatal intensive care unit, with admission rates rising as residents from northern Gaza flee south.
Twenty more trucks carrying vital relief aid crossed into Gaza Monday, but aid agencies warn that the current rate of delivery will do little to address the needs of more than 2 million people living in the enclave.
That’s half of 1% – or one two-hundredth – of the amount of aid it ordinarily receives.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that chickenpox, not smallpox, has emerged in Gaza according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health