Humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens as Hamas gambles on ‘raw rocket power’

Human waste spills on to blacked-out streets after sewage pipes and electricity lines are destroyed

Palestinians search for bodies in the rubble of a bombed building
Palestinians search for bodies in the rubble of a bombed building
(Image credit: Fatima Shbair/Getty Images)

Overnight Israeli air strikes on Gaza City have destroyed power lines and water pipes, reducing more buildings to rubble in scenes of devastation repeated across the Palestinian territory.

Following a week of “relentless” bombardment of the Gaza Strip by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) that has killed scores of Palestinians and left “families trapped under the rubble” of buildings, “fears are mounting of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the enclave”, The Guardian reports.

Human waste is “spilling out of the ground” after sewage pipes were damaged, the paper adds, and key supplies are running out as Israel continues to block access to the territory, including for aid workers.

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Overnight bombing

Israeli aircraft last night staged further bombing raids on Gaza as “Hamas militants in the coastal enclave continued to target towns in southern Israel with barrages of rockets”, The New York Times (NYT) reports.

As the conflict enters what the paper calls “a second, grinding week of bloodshed and destruction”, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the operation against Hamas would “take time”, adding: “We’ll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet.”

The overnight strikes on Gaza “came after the deadliest day of the conflict” so far, the NYT adds, during which an aerial attack on Gaza City flattened three buildings, killing at least 42 people.

Concern has also risen after “Hamas fired dozens of missiles towards Tel Aviv and the city of Ashdod” in retaliation for an Israeli strike on “a Gazan refugee camp, civilian towers and safe houses”, CNN reports. An infant was the only survivor after a house “was hit and destroyed in an Israeli air strike in the al-Shati refugee camp, killing 10 members of the infant’s family”, including eight children, the broadcaster adds.

International calls for a ceasefire are mounting. However, there is “no sign of any imminent end to the most serious hostilities between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamists in years”, The Telegraph says.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote on Twitter yesterday that “all parties need to de-escalate tensions”, adding that “the violence must end immediately”. Following a meeting of the UN Security Council, the US also said it has made clear that it will offer support to both warring factions “should the parties seek a ceasefire”.

Crisis looms

As Israel continues to pound Gaza with attacks from the air, concern is rising about a looming humanitarian disaster in the region where two million people have lived under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 14 years.

Six of Gaza’s ten electricity lines are down and supply across the territory has been more than halved, according to Mohammed Thabet, a spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company. A seawater desalination plant is also “out of action, leaving 250,000 people without proper supplies of drinking water”, The Guardian reports.

Israel has also prevented fuel from entering the Palestinian territory, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and supplies of animal feed are being held on the Israeli side of the frontier waiting to go in.

OCHA has warned that Palestinian agriculture will soon suffer if supplies are not delivered to livestock and poultry farmers, while Israel has also prevented fishing boats from sailing off the Gaza coast and bombed farms.

UN humanitarian coordinator Lynn Hastings has appealed to “the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups [to] immediately allow the United Nations and our humanitarian partners to bring in fuel, food, and medical supplies”.

However, Laila Barhoum, Oxfam’s policy adviser in Gaza, told The Guardian that the latest wave of hostilities has already created “further human rights violations, poverty and suffering, particularly for a lost generation of children and young Palestinians”.

‘Raw rocket power’

In 2018, after “Israeli soldiers killed 60 Palestinian protesters and militants at the Gaza border fence”, Yehiya Sinwar, the Palestinian leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said his group would push for “peaceful, popular resistance” , writes The Telegraph’s foreign correspondent Roland Oliphant.

But in its efforts to overwhelm Israel’s missile defence system with a non-stop barrage of rockets, “the group seemed to throw that entire strategy of calibration to the winds”, he adds. “And no one is quite sure why.”

Hamas has fired more than 3,100 rockets since the start of the conflict last week, according to the Israeli military, killing at least 11 Israelis. It is also firing rockets deeper into Israel than ever before, targeting Jerusalem for the first time since 2014.

The group has “abandoned pragmatism in favour of raw rocket power”, Oliphant writes, with Michael Stephens, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, telling the paper: “I cannot believe that they did not think this through. I just can’t work it out.”

Representatives of the United States, Qatar, Egypt and other countries have been trying to broker a ceasefire. However, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, told Al Jazeera: “If it doesn’t want to stop, we won’t stop,” the NYT reports.

“It is difficult in the fog of war to work out whether the bloody costs Hamas and ordinary Gazans have paid will justify the fruits of this gamble,” Oliphant says. But whether they have “miscalculated” remains to be seen, he adds.

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