Gaza hospitals warn of dwindling supplies as Israel urges Palestinians to evacuate

IDF releases recording of refugee camp resident saying Hamas is blocking Gazans from fleeing their homes ahead of expected ground offensive; border crossing with Egypt remains shut

Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli military strike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on Octobers 15, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli military strike on the Rafah refugee camp, in the southern Gaza Strip on Octobers 15, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Medics in the Gaza Strip, where Israel is carrying out punishing airstrikes aimed at destroying the ruling Hamas terror group, warned Sunday that thousands could die as hospitals packed with wounded people run desperately low on fuel and basic supplies. Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave struggled to find food, water and safety ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in the war sparked by Hamas’s shock deadly attack on southern Israel last week.

Israeli forces, supported by a growing deployment of US warships in the region, positioned themselves along Gaza’s border and drilled for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the terror group, which rules the coastal enclave. A week of blistering airstrikes have demolished entire neighborhoods but failed to stem rocket fire by terrorists into Israel.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 2,329 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting erupted, more than in the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks. That makes it the deadliest of the five Gaza wars for both sides.

More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians massacred in Hamas’s October 7 devastating assault on Israeli border towns, a music festival and military posts. It is the deadliest war for Israel since the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria.

About 1,000 civilians were killed as 1,800-2,000 Hamas gunmen seized Israeli border communities. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at the outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

Gaza hospitals are expected to run out of generator fuel within two days, according to the UN, which said that this would endanger the lives of thousands of patients. Gaza’s sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 40-kilometer-long (25-mile-long) border with the territory following the Hamas onslaught.

In Nasser Hospital, in the southern town of Khan Younis, intensive care rooms are packed with wounded patients, most of them children under the age of 3. Hundreds of people with severe blast injuries have come to the hospital, where fuel is expected to run out by Monday, said Dr. Mohammed Qandeel, a consultant at the critical care complex.

There are 35 patients in the ICU who depend on ventilators to stay alive and another 60 on dialysis. If fuel runs out, “it means the whole health system will be shut down,” he said.

“We are talking about another catastrophe, another war crime, a historical tragedy,” he charged, as children moaned in pain in the background. “All these patients are in danger of death if the electricity is cut off.”

Palestinian medics walk through a makeshift morgue for people killed in Israeli airstrikes, at al-Aqsa hospital in Deir el-Balah, Gaza Strip, on October 14, 2023, amid the war between Israel and Hamas, the terror group that rules the coastal enclave. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of pediatrics at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, said it did not evacuate despite Israeli orders. There are seven newborns in the ICU hooked up to ventilators, he said. “We cannot evacuate; that would mean death for them and other patients under our care.”

And wounded patients keep coming in with severed limbs, severe burns and other life-threatening injuries. “It’s frightening,” he said.

A crowd of men, women and children that medical officials estimated at 35,000 crammed into the city’s main hospital, Shifa, hoping it would be spared in the coming attack. The hospital is widely reported to be sitting atop a major Hamas headquarters, with the terror group using the facility as a shield.

Gaza was already in a humanitarian crisis due to a growing shortage of water and medical supplies caused by the Israeli siege. With some bakeries closing, residents said they were unable to buy bread. Israel has also cut off water, forcing many to rely on brackish wells.

Israel dropped leaflets over Gaza City in the north and renewed warnings on social media, ordering more than 1 million Palestinians — almost half the territory’s population — to move south. The military says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign against Hamas terrorists in the north, where they have extensive networks of tunnels and bunkers. Hamas urged people to stay in their homes.

The UN and aid groups have said that the mass exodus within Gaza, along with Israel’s complete siege of the coastal territory, would cause untold human suffering. The World Health Organization said the evacuation “could be tantamount to a death sentence” for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals.

The military said Sunday that it would not target one route south between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., again urging Palestinians to leave the north en masse. The military offered two corridors and a longer window the day before. It says hundreds of thousands have already fled south, but travel is being complicated by Hamas roadblocks designed to thwart the evacuation.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees says an estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Gaza in a single week.

Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Oct. 15, 2023 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday released the audio from a phone call between two men it identified as a military intelligence officer and a resident of the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, in which the latter said Palestinians are being prevented from evacuating their homes.

“They are taking identification cards and car keys,” the unnamed Palestinian man said, according to a transcript from the military.

Asked by the officer if it was Hamas preventing them from leaving, the man responded, “Yes, yes.”

The US has been trying to broker a deal to reopen Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza to allow Americans and other foreigners to leave and humanitarian aid amassed on the Egyptian side to be brought in. The crossing, which was closed because of airstrikes early in the war, has yet to reopen.

Witnesses told AFP on Sunday that convoys of humanitarian aid stacked up near Egypt’s border with Gaza.

On Saturday, an American official confirmed to AFP that Egypt and Israel had reached an agreement to allow American citizens to leave Gaza via Rafah. However, Egypt has imposed conditions on the deal.

Officials refused for “the crossing to be designated for only foreigners to cross,” according to Egyptian news channel Al-Qahera News, which has ties to Egyptian intelligence agencies.

“The Egyptian stance is clear, which requires the aid to arrive in Gaza,” the report added.

On Sunday, however, witnesses said concrete blocks installed by the Egyptians to fortify the border following Israel’s bombings were still in place, suggesting that no passage was being considered in the immediate future.

Already, shipments of aid from Jordan, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have arrived at El Arish airport — 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Rafah — alongside enough medical supplies from the World Health Organization to meet the needs of 300,000 people.

Egypt itself has sent a convoy of 100 transport trucks carrying 1,000 tons of aid.

Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz said on Friday: “Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home.”

Hundreds of relatives of the estimated 150-200 people captured by Palestinian terrorists in Israel and taken to Gaza gathered outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv late Saturday, demanding their release.

“This is my cry out to the world: Please help bring my family, my wife and three kids,” said Avihai Brodtz of Kfar Aza. Many expressed anger toward the government, saying they still had no information about their loved ones.

Supporters and family members of Israeli hostages look at images of the hostages plastered on a wall during a rally outside of the Israeli military base HaKirya in central Tel Aviv on October 14, 2023. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

The military said Sunday that an airstrike in southern Gaza had killed a Hamas commander blamed for the killings at Nirim, one of several communities Hamas had attacked in southern Israel. Israel said it struck over 100 military targets overnight, including command centers and rocket launchers.

Israel has called up some 360,000 military reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. Israelis living near the Gaza border, including residents of the town of Sderot, continued to be evacuated. Terrorists in Gaza have fired over 5,500 rockets since launching the October 7 attack, many reaching reaching deep into Israel, as Israeli warplanes pound Gaza.

In a televised address Saturday night, Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said “we are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon,” without giving a timetable for the attack.

When asked at a press briefing whether Israel would treat civilians who stay in the north as combatants, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, another army spokesman, said: “That’s why we’ve encouraged people not involved with Hamas to move south.”

Another military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, also stressed the IDF will not target civilians while saying the main focus in the military operation was to rescue the hostages, who were “most likely” being held underground.

“It is extremely difficult for any modern military to fight in such a dense urban area,” he told CNN.

“But again, we must remember… we are going to fight a ruthless enemy that has no problems using everything available… civilians as human shields and using civilian infrastructure for military purposes,” he added.

Israeli soldiers stop as armored vehicles advance toward the border with the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

On Sunday, Hagari also strongly denied claims by Hamas and reported by international media outlets that Israel had struck convoys of Palestinians evacuating from the northern part of Gaza, killing over 70 people.

“This is a false report,” he said during a press conference.

“The one making cynical use of their own citizens and taking them as human shields is Hamas,” Hagari added, accusing the terror group of spreading “manipulative fake information into the world’s ears.”

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said late Saturday that the US was moving a second carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the eastern Mediterranean, in a show of force meant to deter any allies of Hamas, such as Iran or Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group, from seeking to widen the war.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh as the Biden administration scrambled to prevent a wider regional conflict. Prince Mohammed is the sixth Arab leader Blinken has met since he arrived in the Middle East Thursday.

Hamas remained defiant. In a televised speech Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, a top official based abroad, said that “all the massacres” will not break the Palestinian people.

Hamas spokesperson Jihad Taha told The Associated Press in Beirut that Israel “does not dare to fight a ground battle,” because of the captives. He alluded to the possible entry of Hezbollah and other regional players in the battle should Israel launch a ground invasion but declined to say whether they had made any concrete commitments.

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