DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The United Nations was forced to stop deliveries of food and other necessities to Gaza on Friday and warned of the growing possibility of widespread starvation after internet and telephone services collapsed in the besieged enclave because of a lack of fuel.
Israel announced that it will allow for the first time two tanker trucks of fuel daily into Gaza for the U.N. and communications systems. The amount is about half of what the U.N. said it needs to conduct lifesaving functions for hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza, including fueling water systems, hospitals, bakeries and its trucks delivering aid.
Israel has barred entry of fuel since the start of the war, saying it would be diverted by Hamas for military means. It has also blocked food, water and other supplies except for a trickle of aid from Egypt that aid workers say falls far short of what’s needed.
The communications blackout, now in its second day, largely cuts off Gaza’s 2.3 million people from one another and the outside world.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, couldn’t bring in its aid convoy Friday because of the communications cut-off and won’t be able to as long it continues, said spokesperson Juliette Touma.
“An extended blackout means an extended suspension of our humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip,” Touma told The Associated Press.
Israeli forces have signaled they could expand their offensive toward Gaza’s south even while continuing operations in the north. Troops have been searching the territory’s biggest hospital for traces of a Hamas command center the military alleges was located under the building.
The war, now in its sixth week, was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which the militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 240 men, women and children.
On Friday, the military said it found the body of another hostage, identifying her as Cpl. Noa Marciano. Marciano’s body was recovered in a building adjacent to Shifa, the military said, like that of another hostage found Thursday, Yehudit Weiss.
More than 11,400 Palestinians have been killed in the war, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and militants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
AID DRIES UP
After an American request, Israel agreed to allow two tanker trucks of fuel into the Gaza Strip each day — a quantity that national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi called “very minimal.” COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian affairs, said it would amount to 60,000 liters (15,850 gallons) a day for the U.N.
A U.S. State Department official said Israel also agreed to let in 10,000 liters a day (2,640 gallons) for the communications network.
Touma said UNRWA and other humanitarian groups need at least 120,000 liters (31,700 gallons) a day to run lifesaving functions. It was not immediately know if the fuel for communications would be enough to revive the network.
Since the war began, Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day in shipments from Egypt. The breakdown of water and sewage systems has left 70% of the population drinking brackish or contaminated water, causing an outbreak of water-borne diseases.
Dehydration and malnutrition are growing, with nearly all residents in need of food, said Abeer Etefa, a Mideast regional spokeswoman for the U.N.’s World Food Program.
“People are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” she said Thursday from Cairo.
MARCH FOR HOSTAGES
Israeli officials previously vowed fuel would not be let in until Gaza militants release the hostages. The government has been under heavy public pressure in Israel to show it is doing all it can to bring back the men, women and children abducted in Hamas’ attack.
Thousands of marchers — including families of over 50 hostages — embarked Friday on the fourth leg of a five-day walk from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, chanting, “Bring them home!”
The marchers are traversing the 70 kilometers (45-miles) to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, calling on the unpopular leader and his War Cabinet to do more to rescue their loved ones. They have urged the cabinet to consider a cease-fire or prisoner swap in return for the hostages.
Hamas has offered to exchange all hostages for some 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, which the cabinet has rejected.
CONDITIONS AT SHIFA
Speaking from Shifa Hospital on Friday, Dr. Ahmad Mukhalalti told Al-Jazeera television that there was no electricity to run ventilators or provide ICU patients with oxygen. He said most of the 36 infants there suffer from severe diarrhea because there is no clean water to give them.
Shifa’s director, Mohammed Abu Selmia, told Al-Jazeera that 52 patients have died since fuel ran out a week ago — up from 40 reported dead before Israeli troops stormed in on Tuesday.
More were on the verge of death as their wounds are “open with maggots coming out of them,” said another doctor, Fiasal Siyam. Their accounts could not be independently verified.
Abu Selmia said Israeli troops should either bring them fuel to power equipment or allow an evacuation.
“The hospital has become a giant prison,” he said. “We are surrounded by death.”
Israel’s military said it delivered 4,000 liters of water and 1,500 ready-made meals to Shifa. Abu Selmia said nearly 7,000 people were trapped there, including patients, staff and displaced civilians.
As its troops continue to search Shifa, Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital. So far, Israel has mainly shown photos and video of weapons caches that it says its soldiers found inside,
On Thursday, the military released video of a hole in Shifa’s courtyard it said was a tunnel entrance. It also showed several assault rifles and RPGs, grenades, and ammunition clips it said were found in a pickup truck in the courtyard. The AP could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
The allegations are part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields across the Gaza Strip, contending that is the reason for the large numbers of civilian casualties during weeks of bombardment.
STRIKES IN THE SOUTH
Airstrikes continued to hammer the southern sector of Gaza, where most of the territory’s population is now sheltering. Among them are hundreds of thousands of people who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate Gaza City and the north to get out of the way of its ground offensive.
In the Nusseirat refugee camp, a strike crushed a building to rubble killing at least 41 people, staff at the nearby hospital said. Residents said dozens more were buried in the wreckage.
Early morning strikes outside the city of Khan Younis killed 11 members of a family who had evacuated from Gaza City. Dozens of wounded, including babies and young children, streamed into the nearby hospital.
At the morgue, Alaa Abu Hasira wept over the bodies from the strike, lined side-by-side on the floor, including her son, daughter and several sisters. “All my loved ones are gone. All my loved ones are gone,” she sobbed.
So far, Israel’s ground assault has focused on northern Gaza as it vows to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi said Thursday, “We are close to dismantling the military system” that was in the north. “More and more regions” will be targeted to eliminate Hamas, he said.
If the assault moves into the south, it is not clear where Palestinians can go. Egypt has refused to allow a mass transfer onto its soil.
As the war continues to inflame tensions elsewhere, Israeli troops clashed with Palestinian gunmen in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, killing at least three Palestinians. The fighting broke out late Thursday during an Israeli raid.
Israel’s military said five militants were killed. The Palestinian Health Ministry said three people died. The militant Islamic Jihad group claimed the three dead as members and identified one as a local commander.
Keath and Jeffrey reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Najib Jobain in Rafah, Gaza Strip; Bassem Mroue in Beirut; Edith M. Lederer in New York; and Julia Frankel in Jerusalem contributed to this story.
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