Israeli troops search a building in the northern Gaza Strip
Gaza Strip (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israel has agreed to allow two fuel trucks a day into Gaza, Israeli officials said Friday, after the UN warned shortages had halted aid deliveries and put people at risk of starvation.
The situation was dire at the Al-Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza. Israel’s army said it was still searching the sprawling complex for suspected hideouts of fighters from the Islamist movement’s armed wing.
Hamas rejects an Israeli charge that it has a command centre at the hospital, where thousands of people, including wounded patients and premature babies, are believed to be inside. The hospital also denies the claim.
Israel has vowed to “crush” Hamas in response to the group’s October 7 attack, when it broke through Gaza’s militarised border to kill about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and take about 240 hostage, according to Israeli officials.
The army’s aerial bombing and ground campaign has killed about 11,500 people, including thousands of children, according to Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.
In response to a US request, Israel’s war cabinet unanimously decided to allow “the entry of two diesel fuel tankers per day for the needs of the UN to support water and sewer infrastructure… provided that it does not reach Hamas”, Israeli officials said.
Map of the Gaza Strip
The announcement came hours after the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said its aid trucks were unable to enter Gaza from Egypt for a second consecutive day due to the lack of fuel and a near-total communications blackout.
In a statement, the agency said it would be unable to “manage or coordinate humanitarian convoys” from Friday because of the telecommunications outage.
“The situation in Al-Shifa is catastrophic” for patients, displaced people and health workers who are crammed inside without electricity, water and food, the hospital’s director, Mohammed Abu Salmiya, told AFP on the phone later during a brief restoration of communications.
Israel has defended its Al-Shifa operation, with the military saying it found rifles, ammunition, explosives and the entrance to a tunnel shaft at the hospital complex.
- ‘Anxiety and panic’ -
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged hostages may even have been held at the medical facility.
“We had strong indications that they were held in the Shifa Hospital, which is one of the reasons we entered the hospital,” he told “CBS Evening News”.
Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023
“If they were (there), they were taken out,” he said.
Israel said its forces were searching Al-Shifa “one building at a time”.
The army said it struck numerous targets in Gaza overnight Thursday-Friday, locating rockets and unmanned aerial vehicles at a post of the Islamic Jihad militant group in the north of the territory.
A Palestinian sits on the rubble of his home after an Israeli strike in Rafah
It said troops killed Hamas members at a school where they found a “large number of weapons”.
The military also said troops had recovered the remains of kidnapped woman soldier Noa Marciano, 19, “from a structure adjacent to Al-Shifa hospital”.
It had confirmed her death this week, without giving the cause. Hamas said she had been killed in Israeli bombing.
On Thursday the army said soldiers near Al-Shifa found the body of another hostage. Yehudit Weiss, 65, had been kidnapped from the border kibbutz community of Beeri.
- ‘Civilians face starvation’ -
The Israeli government has come under increasing pressure to back up its allegations that Hamas is using hospitals as command centres.
Israel troops seen during a military operation in north Gaza
The United States has stood behind its ally, however, with President Joe Biden this week saying he had asked Israel to be “incredibly careful” in its military moves around Gaza hospitals.
More than half of Gaza’s hospitals are no longer functional, due to either combat, damage, or shortages, and Israel’s raid on Al-Shifa left extensive damage to the radiology, burns and dialysis unit, Hamas said.
AFPTV video showed Palestinians paying their last respects to loved ones on Friday as around a dozen bodies shrouded in white were laid out in front of the Indonesian hospital at Beit Lahia in north Gaza.
On Thursday, Jews and Arabs had come together for the funeral of another casualty of the Beeri attack – peace activist Vivian Silver, who was hailed as an “extraordinary woman”.
Negotiations are ongoing for the release of the hostages, including children, in exchange for a pause in fighting.
Qatar, where Hamas has political offices, and Egypt have been mediating what Egypt has described as “very delicate” discussions.
On the ground, conditions are rapidly deteriorating for Palestinian civilians, the UN warned.
More than 1.5 million people have been internally displaced, and Israel’s blockade of the territory means “civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation”, World Food Programme head Cindy McCain said.
UNRWA said 70 percent of people have no access to clean water in south Gaza, where raw sewage had started to flow on the streets.
Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), described children sheltering at a UN school “pleading for a sip of water, or for a loaf of bread”.
- West Bank violence -
Israel’s ground operation has so far focused on north Gaza, where it has announced the seizure of key buildings and a port. It says 51 of its troops have been killed.
Wounded Palestinian children wait in an ambulance ahead of crossing into Egypt from the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing
Alongside the war in Gaza, there is growing concern about violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians has surged.
Raids by Israel’s military, which says it is responding to “a significant rise in terrorist attacks”, have also multiplied in the West Bank where the Palestinian death toll has soared.
The Israeli army said on Friday it had killed at least seven militants in two separate confrontations in the West Bank.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has urged Israel to take “urgent” action to “de-escalate tensions in the West Bank, including by confronting rising levels of settler extremist violence,” the State Department said.
Elsewhere, Israeli strikes killed two pro-Iranian fighters near Damascus during raids Friday targeting a Hezbollah arms depot and other sites near Syria’s capital, a monitor said.
And on the northern border with Lebanon, the Israeli army said it struck several targets of the Hezbollah militant group and responded to fire from across the frontier.
The group of independent global leaders known as The Elders called on Biden to embrace a “historic opportunity” and deliver a peace plan between the Israelis and Palestinians.
“As polarisation increases, the world needs you to set out a vision for peace,” they said in an open letter, stressing the plan “must recognise the equal rights of Palestinians and Israelis.”