UPDATED: Reports of an overnight Israeli military incursion using tanks in northern Gaza followed another series of calls by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for civilians in Gaza City to evacuate – warnings which “make no difference” because “people have nowhere to go or are unable to move”, according to the UN’s top humanitarian official in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Lynn Hastings.
‘Nowhere is safe’
“When the evacuation routes are bombed, when people north as well as south are caught up in hostilities, when the essentials for survival are lacking, and when there are no assurances for return, people are left with nothing but impossible choices”, she said, insisting that “nowhere is safe in Gaza”.
Ms. Hastings appealed for the protection of civilians in armed conflict and reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of the more than 220 people held captive by Hamas since the group’s deadly incursion into Israel on 7 October.
That terror attack left more than 1,400 dead, drawing widespread and immediate condemnation from top UN officials including UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
Medical support for hostages
Little is known about the status of the captives, and after meeting with some of their families on Wednesday UN health agency WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “there is an urgent need for the captors of the hostages to provide signs of life, proof of provision of health care and the immediate release, on humanitarian and health grounds, of all those abducted”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) should be granted immediate access to the hostages to understand their health status, and WHO stands ready to provide the ICRC with health support for the hostages, he said.
“I committed, on behalf of WHO, to do all we can to support the health and humanitarian needs of those being held captive,” Tedros insisted.
Record death toll
Meanwhile the heaviest death toll yet from Gaza was reported on Wednesday by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, which said that 756 were killed, including 344 children, bringing total fatalities in the territory to 6,547 since the start of Israel’s retaliation for Hamas’ attacks on 7 October.
With bombardments continuing, according to Gaza’s de facto authorities, some 1,600 people including 900 children have been reported missing and may be under the rubble.
Bodies in tents
UN humanitarian affairs coordination office OCHA said that while visiting a hospital in Gaza, UN personnel saw hundreds of wounded men, women and children.
“Many of them were unconscious, with open wounds – lying on beds, stretchers and on the floor – with limited medical attendance,” while tens of dead bodies were being kept in a tent in the yard because morgues are full, the UN office said.
The ongoing fuel blockade and lack of water, medical supplies and personnel are forcing hospitals to wind down operations, OCHA said. Humanitarians also warned that people were resorting to drinking saltwater which posed “immediate health risks”.
As of Wednesday the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that “current supplies of essential food in Gaza are sufficient for about 12 days”.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on Thursday that over four consecutive days, from Saturday through Tuesday, 62 trucks traveled through the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza, carrying water, food and medical supplies, the UN Spokesperson announced at the regular noon briefing.
“Most of this aid has already reached hospitals, ambulances, and internally displaced persons (IDPs). However, the daily average of trucks allowed into Gaza prior to the hostilities was about 500”, said Stéphane Dujarric.
An estimated 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, with some 629,000 sheltering in 150 UNRWA-designated emergency shelters.
Water supply through the network in areas south of Wadi Gaza has temporarily improved, he said, after UNRWA and UNICEF managed to deliver small quantities of fuel they had retrieved from their existing reserves to key facilities.
“However, the available fuel in these facilities will be exhausted, fairly soon, and the supply of piped water is expected to cease again.”
Lebanon border: Firing continues
The UN peacekeeping Mission in South Lebanon (UNIFIL) remains in continuous contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line – the unofficial frontier between Israel and south Lebanon – “to urge restraint and respect for Security Council Resolution 1701”, Mr. Dujarric said.
The Mission reported that earlier today, it detected firing between Lebanese territory and Israel, near Blida and near Aytaroun.
“They have also been working together with Lebanese authorities to extinguish fires burning near Alma ash-Shaab, as a result of the exchange of fire along the Blue Line.”
Inaction on Security Council
The head of UN Palestine refugee agency UNRWA, Philippe Lazzarini, whose agency has now lost at least 35 staff members during the ongoing Israeli bombardment, said in an opinion piece published on Thursday morning that “history will ask why the world did not have the courage to act decisively and stop this hell on Earth.”
UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief Filippo Grandi tweeted that the work aid workers are doing in Gaza “is nothing short of heroic”, calling for UNRWA to get the resources it needs “because not only is it a lifeline for thousands but it also represents one of the last shreds of humanity amidst the devastation.”