The U.N. warned Wednesday that it is on the verge of running out of fuel in the Gaza Strip, forcing it to sharply curtail relief efforts in the territory blockaded and devastated by Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.
The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources. Meanwhile, the U.N.’s top official faced backlash from Israel after saying the Hamas massacre that sparked the fighting did not “take place in a vacuum.”
Health officials said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets pounded Gaza. Workers pulled dead and wounded civilians, including many children, out of landscapes of rubble in cities across the territory.
Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said more than 750 people were killed over the past 24 hours. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death toll, and it was not known if the count included any militants.
The Israeli military, which accuses Hamas of operating among civilians, said its strikes killed militants and destroyed military targets. Gaza militants have fired unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.
The rising death toll in Gaza – following a reported 704 killed the day before – was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come if Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas.
The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.
The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel – mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas also holds some 222 hostages in Gaza.
The warning by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, over depleting fuel supplies raised alarm that the humanitarian crisis could quickly worsen.
Gaza’s population has been running out of food, water and medicine, too, under Israel’s seal. About 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have fled their homes, with nearly half of them crowded into U.N. shelters.
In recent days, Israel let a small number of trucks with aid enter from Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel – needed to power generators – saying it believes Hamas will take it.
UNRWA has been sharing its own fuel supplies so that trucks can distribute aid, bakeries can feed people in shelters, water can be desalinated, and hospitals can keep incubators, life support machines and other vital equipment working.
If it continues doing all of that, fuel will run out by Thursday, so the agency is deciding how to ration its supply, UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told The Associated Press.
“Do we give for the incubators or the bakeries? Do we bump clean water or do we send trucks to the borders?” she said. “It is an excruciating decision.”
More than half of Gaza’s primary health care facilities and roughly a third of its hospitals have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.
At Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the lack of medicine and clean water have led to “alarming” infection rates, the group Doctors Without Borders said. Amputations are often required to prevent infection from spreading in the wounded, it said.
One surgeon with the group described amputating half the foot of a 9-year-old boy with “slight sedation” on a hallway floor as his mother and sister watched.
A strike Wednesday in the Nusseirat refugee camp killed the wife, son and young daughter of one of Al-Jazeera TV’s chief correspondents, Wael Dahdouh. Footage aired on the Qatari based network showed the veteran journalist weeping over his son’s body on a hospital floor.
“They take vengeance on us through our children?” he sobbed.
In a swath of Gaza City’s Yarmouk neighbourhood reduced to splinters, a bleeding man hugged a child after both were dug out of the rubble. A bakery in Deir al-Balah was flattened. In a nearby hospital, medics treated a boy with a mangled, half-severed leg. One worker lifted a dead baby out of the shattered concrete and rebar of 15 homes hit in the southern city of Rafah.
The conflict threatened to spread across the region. The Israeli military said it struck military sites in Syria in response to rocket launches from the country. Syrian state media said eight soldiers were killed and seven wounded.
Strikes in Syria also hit the airports of Aleppo and Damascus, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been exchanging near daily fire with Iranian-backed Hezbollah across the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal co-ordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.
Hamas’ surprise rampage on Oct. 7 in southern Israel stunned the country with its brutality, its unprecedented toll and the failure of intelligence agencies to know it was coming. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Wednesday night that he will be held accountable, but only after Hamas was defeated.
“We will get to the bottom of what happened,” he said. “This debacle will be investigated. Everyone will have to give answers, including me.”
U.S. President Joe Biden said that after the conflict comes to an end, Israelis, Palestinians and their partners must work toward a two-state solution. He also decried increasing attacks on Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank, saying they must “stop now.”
Settler attacks have been part of swelling violence in the occupied West Bank, including clashes between fighters and Israeli troops and shootings of stone-throwing protesters. At least 104 Palestinians have been killed, health authorities say.
Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if implemented, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.
“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.
The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Guterres said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Guterres said Wednesday he is “shocked” at the misinterpretation of his statement “as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas.”
“This is false. It was the opposite,” he told reporters.