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Gaza death toll passes 20,000 as US says it will support watered-down aid resolution

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23 December 2023, The Age, by Najib Jobain, Jack Jeffery and Colleen Barry

Rafah, Gaza Strip: Health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip say more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war between Israel and Hamas.

The figure, amounting to nearly 1 per cent of the territory’s prewar population, is a new reflection of the staggering cost of the war, which in just over 10 weeks has displaced more than 80 per cent of Gaza’s people and devastated wide swaths of the tiny coastal enclave.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said that it has documented 20,057 deaths in the fighting. It does not differentiate between combatant and civilian deaths. It has previously said that roughly two-thirds of the dead were women or minors.

The latest death toll came as a new report by the United Nations and other agencies found that more than half a million people in Gaza are starving, further highlighting the humanitarian crisis caused by Israel’s bombardment and siege on the territory in response to Hamas’ October 7 attack.

The extent of the population’s hunger eclipsed even the near-famines in Afghanistan and Yemen of recent years, according to figures in the report. The report warned that the risk of famine is “increasing each day,” blaming the hunger on insufficient aid entering Gaza.

“It doesn’t get any worse,” said Arif Husain, chief economist for the UN’s World Food Program. “I have never seen something at the scale that is happening in Gaza. And at this speed.”

Displaced Palestinians are housed in makeshift tents in the so-called safe zone in al-Mawasi, Rafah, Gaza, on Thursday.

Israel says it is in the final stages of clearing out Hamas militants from northern Gaza, but that months of fighting lie ahead in the south.

The war has also pushed Gaza’s health sector into collapse. Only nine of its 36 health facilities are still partially functioning, all located in the south, according to the World Health Organisation. WHO relief workers reported “unbearable” scenes in two hospitals they visited in northern Gaza: Bedridden patients with untreated wounds crying out for water, the few remaining doctors and nurses having no supplies, and bodies being lined up in the courtyard.

Bombardment and fighting continued, and internet and communications that had been knocked out for several days gradually began to return across the territory.

UN Security Council members again delayed a vote on a now-watered-down Arab-sponsored resolution for a halt in combat to allow for increased aid deliveries. A vote, initially set for Monday, has been delayed each day since then. The United States now supports the resolution, but other council members said that because of the significant changes, they needed to consult their capitals before a vote, which is now expected on Friday (Saturday AEDT).

Other countries support a stronger text in the resolution that would include the now-eliminated call for the urgent suspension of hostilities between Israel and Hamas.

Instead, the wording now calls “for urgent steps to immediately allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access, and also for creating the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The steps are not defined, but diplomats said, if adopted, this would mark the council’s first reference to a cessation of hostilities.

The report from the UN on the hunger in Gaza underscored the failure of weeks of US efforts to ensure greater aid reaches Palestinians.

At the start of the war, Israel stopped all deliveries of food, water, medicine and fuel into the territory. After US pressure, it allowed a trickle of aid in through Egypt. But UN agencies say only 10 per cent of Gaza’s food needs have been entering for weeks.

This week, Israel began allowing aid to enter Gaza through its Kerem Shalom crossing, which boosted the number of trucks entering from around 100 a day to around 190 on Wednesday, according to the UN. But an Israeli strike hit the Palestinian side of the crossing, forcing the UN to stop its pickups of aid there, according to Juliette Touma, spokesperson of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

At least four staff members at the crossing were killed, a nearby hospital reported. The Israeli military said it struck militants in the area.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog said Israel has been working to increase its inspection of aid trucks to 300 or 400 a day, and blamed the UN for failures in delivery. The amount of aid could triple “if the UN, instead of complaining all day, would do its job,” he said, without elaborating on what more the UN should be doing.

Egypt’s Rafah crossing has limited capacity for trucks to cross. UN officials say delivery of aid within much of Gaza has become difficult or impossible because of fighting, and more than 130 UN personnel have been killed.

The report released by 23 UN and nongovernmental agencies found that the entire population in Gaza is in a food crisis, with 576,600 at catastrophic or starvation levels. “It is a situation where pretty much everybody in Gaza is hungry,” Husain, the World Food Program economist, said.

“People are very, very close to large outbreaks of disease because their immune systems have become so weak because they don’t have enough nourishment,” he said.

1:32

Hamas heads hold talks in Egypt as ceasefire urgency builds

Hundreds of people lined up Thursday at a soup kitchen in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, waving cups and pots as they waited for soup to be served from huge vats hanging over wood fires. Rafah, by the Egypt border, is one of the few places that receives regular aid deliveries.

Aya Barbakh, who’s been displaced by the war, said she comes every day for food.

“Let us be in comfort like other people. We see people dying every day, and we want to die like them. We have been insulted and humiliated,” she said.

Mahmoud al-Qishawi, with the American charity Pious Projects that runs the kitchen, said there’s no fuel to cook with, so they have to search around the neighbourhood for wood to burn. “There’s a huge number of families and we don’t have food that is enough for them.”

Israel has vowed to continue the offensive until it destroys Hamas’ military capabilities and returns scores of hostages captured by Palestinian militants during their October 7 rampage. Hamas and other militants killed some 1200 people that day, mostly civilians, and captured around 240 others

Hamas fired a barrage of rockets at central Israel Thursday (local time), showing its military capabilities remain formidable. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The United States has continued to support Israel’s campaign while also urging greater efforts to protect civilians. The US wants Israel to shift to more targeted operations aimed at Hamas leaders and the group’s tunnel network.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Tuesday the death toll since the start of the war had risen to more than 19,600. It does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths.

On Wednesday, the WHO delivered supplies to Ahli and Shifa hospitals in northern Gaza, where Israeli troops have demolished vast swaths of the city while fighting Hamas militants.

Israeli forces raided a series of health facilities in the north in recent weeks, detaining men for interrogation and expelling others. On Thursday, troops stormed the Palestinian Red Crescent’s ambulance centre in the Jabaliya refugee camp, taking away paramedics and ambulance crews, the group said.

In some health facilities, patients who are unable to be moved remain, along with a skeleton staff who can do little beyond first aid, according to U.N. and health officials.

The fight to keep counting the dead in Gaza

Ahli Hospital is “a place where people are waiting to die,” said Sean Casey, a member of the WHO team that visited the two hospitals Wednesday. Five remaining doctors and five nurses along with around 80 patients remain in Ahli, he said.

All of the hospital buildings are damaged except two, where patients are now kept: the orthopedics ward and a church on the grounds, he said, where “patients were crying out in pain, but were also crying out for us to give them water.”

Israel’s military says 137 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. Israel says it has killed some 7000 militants, without providing evidence. It blames the high number of civilian deaths in Gaza on Hamas, saying it uses them as human shields when it fights in residential areas.

Indirect talks continue in Cairo between Israel and Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh aimed at securing another ceasefire and swap of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the United States. “These are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere,” the White House’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, said.

Israeli shelling in the Lebanese border town of Maroun El-Ras on Thursday killed an elderly woman in her 80s and wounded her husband, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said. The Israeli military confirmed it launched artillery and airstrikes on Hezbollah militant positions in southern Lebanon. Israeli forces and members of Hezbollah have clashed along the Lebanon-Israel border almost daily since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Times and The New York Times have reported that the mother of one of the three hostages killed in error by Israeli soldiers has forgiven them. In a statement released by the Israeli government, Yotam Haim’s mother, Irian, said: “None of us are judging you or angry with you,” she said, directly addressing the battalion involved in the shooting. “Not me; not my husband, Raviv; not my daughter, Noya; not Yotam, of blessed memory; and not Tuval, Yotam’s brother”.The Times reported she recorded a message to the battalion saying they should continue fighting to destroy Hamas.

Article link: https://www.theage.com.au/world/middle-east/more-than-570-00-people-in-gaza-are-starving-because-of-war-un-20231222-p5et7c.html
Article source: The Age/Najib Jobain, Jack Jeffery and Colleen Barry 23.12.2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000