Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Fulla Al-Laham, 4, who was wounded in an Israeli strike that killed 14 family members, including her parents and all her siblings, is comforted by her grandmother at a hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 14.MOHAMMED SALEM/Reuters

Water supplies in Gaza are rapidly dwindling and thousands of hospital patients are in severe danger as Israel’s nine-day blockade and bombing campaign triggers a growing humanitarian catastrophe for the 2.3 million people of the Palestinian territory.

Israel launched the air strikes last week after Hamas militants from the Gaza Strip killed more than 1,400 people in southern Israel and abducted more than 120, according to the government’s latest count.

“Hamas thought we would be demolished,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at a meeting of his emergency cabinet. “It is we who will demolish Hamas.”

The bombing has intensified in recent days, with more than 300 people killed on Saturday and Sunday morning, making it the deadliest 24-hour period since the attacks began, according to Gaza’s health ministry. By Sunday evening, it said the total death toll had climbed to 2,670.

“Morgues are overflowing,” United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Martin Griffiths said in a weekend statement. “Entire residential neighbourhoods have been razed to the ground. The humanitarian situation in Gaza, already critical, is fast becoming untenable.”

Open this photo in gallery:

Family members grieve as the bodies of victims are taken for burial from the Al-Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on Oct. 15.MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

The air strikes, coupled with Israel’s continuing blockade of Gaza’s supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine, have sparked growing international concern.

“Gaza is being strangled, and it seems that the world right now has lost its humanity,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA.

“Gaza is now even running out of body bags,” he told a media briefing on Sunday night at his agency’s headquarters in East Jerusalem. “The UNRWA operations is the largest United Nations footprint in the Gaza Strip, and we are on the verge of collapse. This is absolutely unprecedented. … As of today, my UNRWA colleagues in Gaza are no longer able to provide humanitarian assistance.”

More than a million people, nearly half of Gaza’s population, have been forced to flee from their homes, including 400,000 who are sheltering in UN schools or other buildings, where the UN says the sanitary conditions are appalling, with hundreds of people sharing a single toilet.

The UN warned that Gazans will soon begin dying of severe dehydration if the blockade of water and fuel continues. Some are already forced to drink dirty water, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases, the UN said.

Open this photo in gallery:

Patients at Naser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 15. Health officials say they are running out of fuel to operate medical devices, amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.MOHAMMED SALEM/Reuters

On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said water supplies had been restored to southern Gaza. But UN officials later said they were unable to confirm that any supply was restored, and the supply in any event would be in only a single location in southern Gaza.

Mohammed Abu Mughaiseeb, deputy medical co-ordinator in Gaza for Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), said his staff spent two hours searching for drinking water on Sunday. “Even drinkable water is not available any more,” he sent in a social-media post.

Israel has told the entire population of northern Gaza, about 1.1 million people, including hospital staff and patients, to move to the southern half of the enclave as it prepares for an expected ground invasion.

Israelis, Palestinians recount the chaotic hours of Oct. 7 and its first sparks of war

Some humanitarian workers have described this as “forcible transfer” – a war crime under international law – and most hospitals are defying the order. By Sunday evening, an estimated 600,000 people had moved from northern Gaza to the south.

The evacuation orders to 22 hospitals in northern Gaza are “a death sentence for the sick and injured,” the World Health Organization said in a statement on the weekend.

More than 2,000 patients are at risk because the overcrowded hospitals in southern Gaza are already at maximum capacity and would be unable to cope with a dramatic rise in patients, it said.

“Innocent civilians and children are paying the price,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the World Health Summit on Sunday.

“The forced evacuation of patients and health workers will further worsen the humanitarian and public-health catastrophe. Critically ill patients; newborns in incubators; women with complications of pregnancy and others cannot be moved without serious risk to their lives.”

Open this photo in gallery:

A Palestinian patient lies on a hospital bed at Naser hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Oct. 15.MOHAMMED SALEM/Reuters

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said it will not evacuate the hospitals where it operates in northern Gaza. “PRCS will continue saving lives and will not abandon those who are facing death threats,” it said in a social media post on the weekend.

Hussam Abu Safiya, a doctor at the Kamal Adwan hospital in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, said his hospital is seeing 15 to 20 fatality cases every day. “We are working under stress, we are working under bombing,” he told The Globe and Mail.

“The situation in our hospital is very bad, very bad. Any minute many people can come to our emergency room due to Israeli bombing. Most of the people are children and women, children of young age presenting to our ER with different injuries, mostly people with bad or critical general conditions. We have a shortage of medications. We can’t help these people for many more days because we don’t have the medical supplies.”

By Sunday, hospital fuel supplies had dwindled to roughly two days, said Isam Hammad, the top importer of medical equipment to Gaza, who works closely with local medical facilities. After that, “generators will stop and hospitals will go out of service,” he said, although any problem with the generators could hasten that moment.

Once generators are out, intensive-care equipment “will work on internal batteries for a few hours, then it will stop,” he said.

Medical supplies are dwindling, and the mass evacuation of patients is not possible, he told The Globe. “We are talking about five main hospitals full of critical cases. Will there be bed capacity in the south? Of course not.”

South Gaza is no haven, he said. In fact, he has been told that people who initially left the north have subsequently returned home, “simply because there is no electricity and no water in all places north and south.”

Meanwhile, bombing continues. “It is death everywhere,” Mr. Hammad said.

Because of the lack of fuel, water cannot be pumped, and sewage systems will flood, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned on the weekend.

The lack of water supplies “has become a matter of life and death,” UNRWA said in an earlier statement. “People are now forced to use dirty water from wells.”

Three water-desalination plants, previously producing 21 million litres of drinking water per day, have been shut down by the blockade, and the drinking-water supply from Israel was cut last Monday, causing a severe shortage for more than 650,000 people, the UN agency said.

“We need to truck fuel into Gaza now,” the UNRWA’s Mr. Lazzarini said in the statement. “Fuel is the only way for people to have safe drinking water. If not, people will start dying of severe dehydration, among them young children, the elderly and women.”

Mélanie Joly visits Israel as evacuation flights begin, number of missing Canadians grows

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a statement on Saturday, said he was deeply concerned by the “dire humanitarian situation” in Gaza. “The rapid and unimpeded access of relief via a humanitarian corridor is essential to address the urgent needs of civilians in Gaza,” he said.

About 150 Canadians are still trapped in Gaza after the cancellation of an earlier agreement to allow foreign nationals to depart from Gaza through the Rafah crossing to Egypt. They had hoped to leave on Saturday, but by Sunday evening there was still no sign of movement at the Rafah crossing, despite U.S. official statements that the crossing will be opened. Some media reports said the crossing could finally be opened on Monday morning.

Relief agencies are hoping that a humanitarian corridor can be established through the Rafah crossing to allow emergency aid to enter Gaza from Egypt. Emergency supplies are already being stockpiled on the Egyptian side of the border, in the hope that the crossing will be opened.

Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave of Gaza struggled to find food, water and safety on Sunday ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in the war sparked by Hamas' deadly attack.

The Associated Press

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe