Israel on Wednesday approved a “minimal” increase in fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip to prevent a humanitarian crisis, two months into a war with the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers following the terror group’s unprecedented assault on Israel on October 7 when terrorists killed 1,200, mostly civilians, and took some 240 hostages.
Israel has restricted fuel shipments into Gaza since the outbreak of the war over concerns that the crucial resource will fall into the hands of Hamas for military purposes. Humanitarian officials say the fuel shortages have crippled the health care system and hindered deliveries of basic humanitarian supplies.
Israel has been facing mounting pressure from Washington to ramp up aid to Gaza and to take further steps to avoid mass civilian casualties.
The Israeli security cabinet approved the increase in a vote on Wednesday night, after Washington demanded that the current daily delivery of 60,000 liters of fuel be doubled or even tripled.
Channel 12 news cited unsourced “estimates” that the war cabinet will gradually increase the daily quantity from the current 60,000 liters to three times that level, 180,000 liters, in accordance with the US demand.
Public broadcaster Kan, meanwhile, reported that 120,000 liters of fuel would be delivered to Gaza daily starting on Thursday.
Far-right ministers Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister, and Itamar Ben Gvir, the national security minister, voted against the measure.
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said during cabinet discussions that the vote to boost fuel supplies was “critical” to secure continued backing from Washington for Israel’s military operation in Gaza, amid a mounting death toll, and its goal of dismantling Hamas, Walla reported.
On Monday, the United States said it was asking Israel to let more fuel into the battered Palestinian enclave, following the end of a temporary truce that saw the release of 105 of the roughly 240 Israeli and foreign hostages taken on October 7 by terrorists, a pause in fighting, and increased aid supplies into the Strip.
“We’ve made clear we want to see it back up not just to the level of fuel that went in during the pause, but actually higher,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
For weeks, Israel refused to allow any fuel to enter the Strip before then relenting.
As part of the week-long, Qatar-brokered, US-backed, truce deal that started on November 24 and ended December 1, regular fuel shipments were allowed in, which aid agencies said was not nearly enough.
In a statement late Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the security cabinet voted to approve the war cabinet’s proposal to increase the daily quantity of fuel allowed into Gaza, without detailing the amount.
A “minimal supplement of fuel — necessary to prevent a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics” had been approved to enter “into the southern Gaza Strip”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
It said the fuel supply increase was “necessary to avoid a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics in the south of the Gaza Strip,” which is controlled by Hamas.
“The minimal amount will be determined from time to time by the war cabinet according to the morbidity situation and humanitarian situation in the Strip,” it added.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that over 16,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.
War broke out on October 7 when Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and abducting some 240 people. Israel embarked on a massive air and ground campaign with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since taking over in a 2007 coup.
Since October 7, the UN says some 1.87 million people — over 80% of the population of 2.3 million — have fled their homes, many of them displaced multiple times. Almost the entire population is now crowded into southern and central Gaza, dependent on aid. International officials escalated warnings over the worsening humanitarian calamity.
“Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said at a news conference in Geneva Wednesday. “My humanitarian colleagues have described the situation as apocalyptic.”
The United Nations has warned of a total breakdown of public order in Gaza as fighting against Hamas intensifies in the south of the Palestinian territory, and the World Health Organization said Gaza’s health system was near collapse.
In a rare move Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote a letter to the Security Council urging action that would call for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas, and invoked a clause in the UN charter to urge intervention that has not been used since 1989.
Guterres wrote to the 15-member Security Council under Article 99 of the UN Charter for the first time since he took the helm of the 193-member world body in 2017. The article allows the secretary-general to bring to the council’s attention any matter that he believes threatens international peace and security.
“Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces, and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible,” he said in the letter.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan both lashes Guterres and called on him to resign. Cohen Guterres’ mandate was a “danger to world peace.”
G7 leaders, including Israel’s key partners, called on Wednesday for “more urgent” action to tackle the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.