Over the past two months and more, Israel’s draconian siege and relentless bombardment have killed at least 20,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, with 70 percent of them being women and children, said the Hamas-run government media office on Wednesday.
On top of the staggering number of casualties, intense attacks have pushed the strip to the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe.
The international call has been ever louder for an immediate ceasefire to allow the safe delivery of humanitarian relief to Gaza, which has been impeded by Washington’s repeated veto on UN ceasefire resolutions. The much-awaited peace in Gaza is as yet not in sight.
WORSENING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
Devastating airstrikes by Israel since Oct. 7 have flattened much of the northern Gaza and ravaged the south. Around 1.9 million people, or 85 percent of the territory’s inhabitants, have been displaced, most of them packed in a small area around the far south Rafah city in the coastal strip, near the border with Egypt.
Things have been rapidly deteriorating, as the aid entering the territory is only a sliver of what is needed, UN officials said.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), about 100 trucks with humanitarian supplies arrived at the Rafah crossing every day from Egypt since hostilities resumed on Dec. 1, well below the daily average of 500 truckloads that entered Gaza every working day prior to Oct. 7.
The World Food Program said Tuesday that half of Gaza’s population is facing extreme or severe hunger, with 90 percent of them regularly going without food for a whole day. Only 10 percent of the food currently required for the 2.2 million people there has entered Gaza in the last 70 days.
Worse still, Gaza is facing a public health catastrophe. The UN agencies have reported a surge in the number of people suffering from infectious diseases, including respiratory diseases and diarrhea, which can be fatal for young children, as well as scabies, hepatitis and malnutrition due to lack of food and clean water.
“We’ve got a textbook formula for epidemics and a public health disaster,” Lynn Hastings, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, said last week.
According to Hastings, only one-third of Gaza’s hospitals are operating, and they are only partly functional because of severe shortages of staff and medicines, and fuel to operate generators. “We all know the health care system is or has collapsed,” she said.
GROWING CALLS FOR CEASEFIRE
Israel has drawn a cascade of criticism for the humanitarian conditions in Gaza and the civilian casualties there. The international community, including some of the Israeli allies, has stepped up calls for an immediate cessation of hostility in the enclave.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna arrived on Sunday for a visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank, where she urged an “immediate and durable” truce in the ongoing war.
“Too many civilians are being killed,” she said during a press conference in Tel Aviv alongside her Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen.
In the meantime, foreign ministers of Britain and Germany issued a joint call for a “sustainable” ceasefire in Gaza, a change in tone from their previous voice of support for Israel.
“We must do all we can to pave the way to a sustainable ceasefire, leading to a sustainable peace,” said David Cameron and Annalena Baerbock. “The sooner it comes, the better — the need is urgent.”
Regional countries have been actively brokering another truce following a ceasefire in late November. Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit on Wednesday urged an “immediate ceasefire” at the 6th Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum.
Delegates from the 22-member bloc called for “the stop of the collective punishment for innocent civilians,” and urged the UN Security Council to play a more active role in the strive for ceasefire.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated his determination to continue the fighting.
“We are continuing the war to the end,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Wednesday. “We will not stop the fighting until all of the goals that we have set are achieved: The elimination of Hamas, the release of our hostages and the removal of the threat from Gaza.”
U.S. “LACKS BASIC HUMANITARIANISM”
The UN Security Council was expected to vote Wednesday on a resolution to deliver more humanitarian aid into Gaza, which was originally scheduled for Monday but was delayed as diplomats have been under intensive negotiations to avoid another U.S. veto.
The draft resolution, put forth by the United Arab Emirates, calls for an “urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access in the Gaza Strip” and demands the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.”
The Biden administration has vetoed several UN ceasefire resolutions, arguing that ending Israel’s offensive in Gaza while leaving Hamas’s military capabilities intact and its top leaders in place would predominantly “benefit Hamas.”
During his trip to Tel Aviv on Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin pledged to continue to provide military support to Israel in its conflict with Hamas and Yemen’s Houthi forces, calling the U.S. commitment to Israel “unwavering.” “No individual, group or state should test our resolve,” he warned.
Condemnation both from home and abroad, as well as rifts in public opinion are growing over Washington’s unshakable support for Israel’s offensive against Gaza.
A poll by U.S. media CBS earlier this month found that 61 percent of voters disapproved of Biden’s approach toward the Israel-Hamas conflict, believing his administration is not bringing things closer to a peaceful resolution.
Washington has turned into a partner of Israel in its aggression, diplomatically and politically, according to Palestinian writer and analyst Akram Atallah.
“This is what weakens the prospects for the truce,” he said. “We’ve seen how it voted against a draft resolution, and now vote on another draft resolution has been delayed again.”
“The U.S. and other Western countries have long ignored the demands of the Palestinian people, which has been clearly demonstrated in this conflict,” said Mustafa Bisharat, a Palestinian analyst.
Denouncing the U.S. veto on ceasefire resolutions in Gaza as “a lack of the most basic humanitarianism,” he said: “The U.S. has always emphasized human rights in the past. This conflict highlights its double standards in international affairs.”