Vital humanitarian aid is piling up at the shuttered Gaza border, despite diplomatic efforts to open a corridor with Egypt, as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that water is running out for hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians in the bombarded territory.
Gaza has been under siege by Israel for more than a week, in response to the deadly incursion by Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the coastal enclave, home to 2.2 million people.
Some are gathering at the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza hoping to leave, as critical supplies like fuel, food and water run short, leaving hospitals on the brink of collapse and families facing dehydration and starvation.
Human rights groups have said Israel’s complete blockade on essential goods entering Gaza is in violation of international law. Amnesty International warned the “collective punishment” of civilians for Hamas’ incursion amounts to a war crime.
Israeli shelling has crushed the medical system in Gaza, with the Palestinian Ministry of Health urging people on Tuesday to donate blood amid severe drug and equipment shortages.
Amid growing international pressure to address the humanitarian crisis, United States President Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday, an extraordinary wartime visit that follows intense efforts by Secretary of State Antony Blinken across the Middle East – including a seven-hour negotiation session with top Israeli officials.
On Tuesday, Blinken announced that the US and Israel “have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organizations to reach civilians in Gaza.”
However, it is unclear if any progress was made on the opening of the Rafah crossing, the only entry point to Gaza not controlled by Israel.
Satellite images provided by Maxar Technologies show four 30-foot (9-meter) craters still blocking the roadway at the border crossing closest to the Egyptian gate; the cement slabs blocking the entrance are also visible in the photos.
Urgent calls for help are growing on both sides of the border.
On the Egyptian side, United Nations teams are waiting at the Rafah crossing, hoping they will be given the green light to enter Gaza and open a humanitarian corridor.
In a social media post Monday, WHO warned that Gaza faces an “imminent” public health crisis, with water running out and the lives of more than 3,500 patients in 35 hospitals at immediate risk.
There are about 84,000 pregnant women in Gaza, with many delivering every day, Harris said. “Babies don’t care about bombs, they come when they come.”
UN humanitarian envoy Martin Griffiths is expected to travel to Cairo on Tuesday to aid diplomatic efforts, according to a release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. His trip will include a visit to Israel.
A convoy of trucks carrying aid supplies was traveling through Egypt toward the crossing early Tuesday, according to state-affiliated media outlet Al-Qahera News. Much of the aid already arrived days ago, sent by multiple countries and international organizations.
On the Gaza side, large numbers of evacuees have gathered by the crossing, part of the mass displacement that has seen at least 1 million people flee their homes in the past week alone, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA).
One family of five Palestinian-Americans, all US citizens, drove to Rafah on Monday after hearing the borders would be opened, said Haifa Kaoud, whose husband Hesham is among the five stuck in Gaza.
“They drove down to Rafah on Monday and waited for hours, but it never opened,” she said, adding: “They don’t have much electricity or internet access, so they depend on us for information.”
The family had been visiting relatives in Gaza when the war broke out; now, their loved ones in the US are desperately trying to find ways to bring them home.
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
“The water is not clean and even though they still have food, they make sure not to eat too much so there’s enough for everyone,” Haifa said. “One of the brothers also takes heart medication and they’re concerned about that lasting too.”
UNRWA said Tuesday that Gaza’s last seawater desalination plant had shut down, bringing the risk of further deaths, dehydration and waterborne diseases.
The UN agency added that one line of water was opened for three hours in southern Gaza on Monday, serving just half the 100,000 population of Khan Younis.
Rising death toll
On Monday, the UN Security Council rejected a Russian resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire because it did not get the minimum number of votes needed. Several countries including the US, the United Kingdom and France voted against it because the draft did not condemn Hamas for the October 7 attack, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said left at least 1,400 people killed and scores taken hostage.
Over a week of Israeli bombardment has killed more than 2,800 people, including hundreds of children, and wounded more than 11,000 in Gaza, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday, according to the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA.
In the occupied West Bank at least 61 people have been killed, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Tuesday.
Casualties in Gaza over the past 10 days have now surpassed the number of those killed during the 51-day Gaza-Israel conflict in 2014.
‘No safe shelters’
Some Palestinians who fled to southern Gaza, after the IDF told them to leave northern regions, were killed by Israeli strikes at evacuation sites, according to health workers and civilians.
Mahmoud Shalabi, the senior programme director for Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), said Israeli attacks were concentrated in southern Gaza overnight on Monday.
In one instance, a doctor working inside Al-Aqsa Hospital told Shalabi 80 Palestinians were killed, including 60 who were internally displaced people from Gaza City.
The doctor was working in the largest hospital in central Gaza, located south of Wadi Gaza, where the Israeli military encouraged civilians to flee for safety ahead of an anticipated ground assault.
“Many internally displaced people have died last night in those alleged safe areas,” Shalabi said on Monday. “When the Israelis are talking about safe shelters, there are no safe shelters.”
Zaqout said 40 bodies had been received at al Nasser hospital, while 60 victims of air strikes in Rafah had been received at al Najar hospital. Another ten bodies had arrived at the European hospital.
He said the bodies included some who rescue crews were able to extract from underneath the rubble of houses.
“Remember these houses were hosting families who fled the north of Gaza…and took shelter with family members or people who they know,” he said, adding there were 150 people in one house.
The Palestinian Interior Ministry said Israeli airstrikes had killed at least 49 people in strikes on the southern Gaza cities of Rafah and Khan Younis.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, also pushed back against accusations of ethnic cleansing by a UN official who focuses on Palestinian rights. Erdan called the claims “utterly false,” accusing UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese of antisemitism.
In a statement Saturday, Albanese accused Israel of carrying out “mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinians under the fog of war,” pointing to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians previously expelled or forced to flee their homes during conflicts in 1948 and 1967.