IDF chief says fuel could be allowed into Gaza for hospitals; PM denies okaying move

Halevi says if hospitals run out of power, fuel will be ‘transferred, with oversight’; IDF releases what it says is recording of Hamas commander forcing hospital to hand over fuel

Trucks carrying fuel drive in the Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Trucks carrying fuel drive in the Gaza Strip on October 22, 2023. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The head of the IDF said Thursday that Israel could allow fuel to enter the Gaza Strip for use by hospitals in the near future, appearing to reverse Israel’s longstanding refusal in a comment immediately countered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which insisted that no such move had been approved.

Responding to a reporter’s question during a briefing at an Air Force base, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said that if hospitals in Gaza run out of fuel — something most have been warning is imminent for weeks — then it will be allowed in via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

“We have not brought fuel in to this point,” Halevi said. “We check the situation in the Strip every day. For over a week, they tell us that the fuel in the hospitals will run out, and it hasn’t. We’ll see when the day comes. [If that happens], fuel will be transferred, with oversight, to the hospitals, and we will do everything to ensure that it doesn’t reach Hamas infrastructure and won’t serve its war aims.”

Israel has not allowed any fuel shipments to enter the Strip since the war began on October 7. Since at least October 10, hospitals and organizations have been warning that medical centers will be forced to cease operations as supplies dwindle, but so far many are still operational, though with severe restrictions and shortages. Others have ceased operations due to Israeli airstrikes.

Fuel is needed to power generators that hospitals rely on to run life-saving machines, with no steady supply of electricity. The World Health Organization said last week that the lack of fuel for hospitals’ generators puts at risk 1,000 patients on kidney dialysis, 130 premature babies in incubators, as well as cancer patients and patients on ventilators.

Shortly after Halevi’s comments, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a terse statement noting only that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has not approved the entry of fuel into Gaza.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of stealing and hoarding fuel in the Strip intended for hospitals and humanitarian use, and diverting it for terror purposes. The IDF released images last week of half a million liters of diesel it said the terror group was holding in the Strip. On Wednesday, the military released a recording of what it said was a Hamas commander forcing a hospital to hand over some fuel.

An image shared by the IDF showing twelve oil tanks in which Hamas allegedly stores its reserves while the Gaza Strip is running out of fuel during the ongoing war with Israel, October 24, 2023. (IDF Arabic spokesman on X)

But Israel has faced widespread pressure, including from its allies, to allow fuel in as the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip deepens. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is slated to arrive in Israel on Friday and is expected to push for the expansion of humanitarian aid allowed to enter, although it is not clear the roles that Egypt and Hamas are playing in restricting or limiting Rafah crossing activity.

Israeli inspectors are stationed near Rafah to review all aid that enters the Strip and ensure that no supplies that could be utilized by Hamas are allowed to cross.

Before the war began, Israel provided 50 percent of the territory’s power needs through 10 electricity lines, but it shut them off on October 11. IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus said last week that Hamas has stockpiled between 850,000 to one million liters of fuel, which could be used for diesel-powered generators to operate water facilities or power hospitals.

Conricus also pointed to a statement from UNRWA itself on October 16 that Hamas officials from the Gaza health ministry stole fuel and medical equipment from its Gaza City compound. UNRWA subsequently deleted the statement and claimed nothing was looted.

On Thursday, a UK-based charity quoted a senior doctor at the Gaza Strip’s largest hospital saying that the facility is on its last supply of fuel.

“The high number of displaced people are no longer living in the courtyard of the hospital but are also living inside the hospital, including the corridors,” UK-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians quoted Shifa Hospital’s chief of surgery, Dr. Marwan Abusada, as saying. Abusada warned that illnesses can spread because of overcrowding and poor conditions.

A wounded Palestinian arrives by ambulance at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City following Israeli strikes on October 29, 2023. (Dawood Nemer/AFP)

Abusada said the overwhelmed hospital is struggling to treat more than 800 wounded people, most of whom suffer from serious or critical injuries.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported on Wednesday that the Turkish-Palestinian Hospital, Gaza’s only facility offering specialized treatment for cancer patients, was forced to shut down because of lack of fuel, leaving 70 cancer patients in a critical situation.

Hamas also said that the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza was forced to turn off most lights and its mortuary refrigerators.

“If we cannot secure electricity or fuel then we will face a disaster,” Hamas Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said.

Jeremy Sharon, Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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