Aid Stuck At Gaza-Egypt Border As Israeli Siege Strains Hospitals, Water Supply

(AP) — Palestinians in besieged Gaza crowded into hospitals and schools on Monday, seeking shelter and running low on food and water. More than a million people have fled their homes ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion.

The ground offensive will be aimed at destroying Hamas after its fighters rampaged through southern Israel.

As the enclave’s food, water and medicine supplies dwindled, all eyes were on the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, where trucks carrying badly needed aid have been waiting for days as mediators press for a cease-fire that would allow them to enter Gaza and allow foreigners to leave.

Rafah, Gaza’s only connection to Egypt, was shut down nearly a week ago because of Israeli airstrikes.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Israel “has not taken a position to open the crossing from the Gaza side.” The Israeli government did not respond to a request for comment.

With a ground invasion of Gaza expected, Israel was preparing for the potential of a new front opening on its northern border with Lebanon, where it has exchanged fire repeatedly with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group. The military ordered residents from 28 Israeli communities to evacuate.

Speaking to the Israeli Knesset on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Iran and Hezbollah, “Don’t test us in the north. Don’t make the mistake of the past. Today, the price you will pay will be far heavier,” referring to Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians sheltering in United Nations facilities are on less than 1 litre (1 quart) of water per day. Hospitals warn they are on the verge of collapse, with emergency generators that power machines like ventilators and incubators down to about one day of fuel and supplies of medicine almost exhausted.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 2,750 Palestinians have been killed and 9,700 wounded since the fighting erupted, more than in the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks. That makes this the deadliest of the five Gaza wars for both sides.

More than 1,400 Israelis have died, the vast majority civilians killed in Hamas’ October 7. The Israeli military said Monday that at least 199 hostages were taken back in Gaza, higher than previous estimates. The military did not specify whether that number includes foreigners.

Israeli airstrikes have pulverised entire neighbourhoods as Palestinian militants continue to fire rockets into Israel. Israel is widely expected to launch a ground offensive in order to kill Hamas leaders, recover captives and destroy the group’s military infrastructure, much of which is in residential areas.

Street-by-street fighting would likely cause mounting casualties on both sides.

Israel has ordered more than 1 million Palestinians — almost half the territory’s population — to leave Gaza City and the surrounding area for the enclave’s south. The military says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign against Hamas in the north, where it says the militants have extensive networks of tunnels and rocket launchers.

Hamas has urged people to stay in their homes, and the Israeli military on Sunday released photos it said showed a Hamas roadblock preventing traffic from moving south.

For a third day, Israel’s military announced a safe corridor for people to move from north to south between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. It said more than 600,000 people have already evacuated the Gaza City area.

Hospitals in Gaza are expected to run out of generator fuel in the next 24 hours, endangering the lives of thousands of patients, according to the UN Gaza’s sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long territory following the Hamas attack.

The World Health Organization said hospitals are “overflowing” as people seek safety. “We are concerned about disease outbreaks due to mass displacement and poor water and sanitation,” it said. Four hospitals in northern Gaza are no longer functioning and 21 have received Israeli orders to evacuate. Doctors have refused, saying it would mean death for critically ill patients and newborns on ventilators.

The WHO said water shortages caused by Israel’s decision to cut off water supplies, combined with a lack of fuel for pumps and desalination stations, put thousands of hospital patients at risk.

“Water is needed to ensure sanitary conditions on inpatient wards, in operation rooms, and emergency departments. It is essential for the prevention of hospital associated infections and for the prevention of outbreaks in hospitals,” the WHO said.

The UN health agency said life-saving assistance for 300,000 patients is currently awaiting entry through Rafah. On the Gaza side, crowds of Palestinians with dual citizenship waited anxiously, sitting on suitcases or crouched on the floor, some comforting crying infants.