Due to a communications outage and fuel constraints, the United Nations delayed assistance delivery to Gaza on Friday, exacerbating the plight of thousands of Palestinians who are homeless and starving while Israeli forces fight Hamas militants within the territory.
The World Food Programme (WFP) of the United Nations stated that the scarcity of food supply would “immediately possibility of starvation” for populations.
International officials say a humanitarian crisis for the 2.3 million residents of Gaza is entering a new, more dire phase as war enters its seventh week.
Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza, since its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged away 240 hostages on a deadly rampage on Oct. 7.
Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the entire northern half of the enclave and made around two-thirds of Gazans homeless.
Gaza authorities say more than 12,000 people are confirmed dead, 5000 of them children, with many others trapped under rubble.
At Gaza’s biggest hospital Al Shifa, focus of international alarm this week as a primary target of Israel’s ground assault, Israel said its forces had found a vehicle with a large number of weapons, and an underground structure it called a Hamas tunnel shaft, after two days searching the premises.
The army released a video it said showed a tunnel entrance in an outdoor area of the hospital, littered with concrete and wood rubble and sand. It appeared the area had been excavated. A bulldozer appeared in the background.
The army also said it had found the bodies of two hostages in buildings near, though not inside, the hospital grounds.
Israel has long maintained that the hospital sat above a vast underground bunker housing a Hamas command headquarters. Hospital staff say this is false and that Israel’s findings there have so far established no such thing.
Hamas denies using hospitals for military purposes. It says some hostages have received treatment at medical centres but they have not been held inside them.
Al Shifa staff said a premature baby died at the hospital on Friday, the first baby to die there in the two days since Israeli forces entered. Three had died in the previous days while the hospital was surrounded.
Israel had said it would send help including incubators to rescue 36 babies being kept eight-to-a-bed since the neo-natal ward was knocked out last week. But staff said the Israelis allowed in no meaningful aid for the babies or hundreds of other patients and thousands of displaced people trapped in the compound.
Five babies were in a very serious condition, Al Shifa hospital compound director Muhammad Abu Salmiya told Al Jazeera.
“We are trying to keep them alive, wrapping them in cellophane, putting bottles of hot water near them to keep them alive, our attempts are what is keeping them alive.”
Communication with outside organisations had been cut and pleas to evacuate those in most desperate condition had gone unanswered, he said.
“There is nothing in the hospital except more dead bodies, there isn’t any kind of life necessities in the hospital, no electricity, no water, no oxygen, no food. The Israeli army is wandering around freely in the hospital. The hospital is besieged from everywhere, tanks surround us from everywhere.”
The last hospital fully functioning in the northern half of Gaza, Al Ahli, was forced to close its surgery department after it ran out of anaesthetics. British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, who escaped on foot to the south, told Reuters he had decided to leave because he was now powerless to help patients.
“It has been a living nightmare – leaving 500 wounded knowing that there’s nothing left for you to be able to do for them, it’s just the most heartbreaking thing I ever had to do,” Abu Sitta said by phone.
In Modiin, Israel, family held a funeral for Noa Marciano, 19, an Israeli army conscript whose body was recovered from Gaza City near Shifa hospital on Thursday. She had been abducted from a military base during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.
“Today we’re asking for your forgiveness … You protected us, but we failed to protect you,” her sobbing mother said, wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a photo of her smiling daughter in her high school graduation robes. “You are resting now, but we will not stop. We won’t forget or forgive.”
The military said it had also recovered the body of Yehudit Weiss, 65, a mother-of-five who was seized from Kibbutz Be’eri.
Hamas announced the death of another captive, an 85-year-old it said had died of a panic attack during an air strike.
With the war about to enter its seventh week, there was no sign of any let-up despite international calls for a ceasefire or at least for humanitarian pauses.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, quoting Palestinian data, said Israeli attacks had destroyed or damaged at least 45% of Gaza’s housing units.
The United Nations said there would be no cross-border aid operation on Friday due to fuel shortages and a communication shutdown. For a second consecutive day no aid trucks arrived in Gaza due to lack of fuel for distributing relief.
An Israeli official said later on Friday that Israel’s war cabinet had approved letting in two fuel trucks a day to help meet U.N. needs, following a U.S. request.
Nearly the entire Gazan population is in desperate need of food assistance, said WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain.
“With winter fast approaching, unsafe and overcrowded shelters, and the lack of clean water, civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” she said in a statement.
A U.N. human rights official said Israel must allow water and fuel into Gaza to restart the water supply network otherwise people would die of thirst and disease. Israel’s actions were a breach of international law, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo said.
The World Health Organization said it feared the spread of disease, including respiratory infections and diarrhoea.