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Gaza and Jerusalem (CNN) — Tempers flared at the United Nations on Tuesday amid ceasefire calls, as aid groups and doctors in Gaza warn that power shortages threaten the lives of vulnerable infants and patients.
Aid agencies have been calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, with one saying at least 2,000 children in Gaza have been killed in the past few weeks, as Israel intensified its bombing campaign in the besieged strip.
The country’s leadership has vowed to wipe out Hamas in response to its October 7 deadly terror attacks and kidnap rampage in which 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 200 taken hostage.
Inside Gaza, cut off from the world by a near total blockade, Israeli airstrikes have decimated entire neighborhoods, leveling homes, schools and mosques. CNN drone footage from Monday showed the level of destruction across parts of the strip, with whole streets flattened in the al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City and a row of destroyed buildings known as al-Zahra towers in central Gaza.
Save the Children said Monday that over 1 million children are “trapped” in Gaza with no safe place to go and warned of the devastating impacts of lacking medication and electricity to power vital health infrastructure in the enclave.
“At least 2,000 children have been killed in Gaza over the past 17 days, and a further 27 killed in the West Bank,” the aid agency said on Monday.
“We call on all parties to take immediate steps to protect the lives of children, and on the international community to support those efforts,” Save the Children said, adding that Israeli airstrikes are “killing and injuring children indiscriminately.”
A United Nations agency warned that it will stop aid operations in Gaza on Wednesday unless fuel is allowed into the enclave. “If we do not get fuel urgently, we will be forced to halt our operations in the #GazaStrip as of tomorrow night,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Tuesday.
Latest figures from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said the death toll resulting from Israeli strikes on the strip has reached at least 5,087, including 2,055 children.
“The health system [in Gaza] has reached the worst stage in its history,” said health ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra in a statement early Tuesday.
As the humanitarian crisis deepens, the international community has struggled to find consensus. The US has rebutted calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, with National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby telling CNN on Monday that Hamas must first release hostages held in Gaza.
Tempers flared at the United Nations after UN Secretary General António Guterres appealed for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” at the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
“Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel – and then continuing to bomb the south itself,” Guterres said.
“It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” Guterres also said. “The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished.”
He said that the “appalling acts” of Hamas “cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. Excellencies, Even war has rules.”
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, called on Guterres “to resign immediately” after his remarks. Writing on social media, Erdan said Guterres “is not fit to lead the UN” for his earlier comments that the attacks by Hamas did “not happen in a vacuum.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who was at the United Nations on Tuesday, said he would not meet with Guterres, as “there is no place for a balanced approach. Hamas must be erased off the face of the planet!,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Israel’s “right to defend itself” was affirmed in the Security Council by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, though he added that “humanitarian pauses must be considered” to allow aid to reach civilians in Gaza – avoiding use of the word “ceasefire,” however.
He also told the council that “Israel must take all possible precautions to avoid harm to civilians” and called on Hamas to cease using Palestinian civilians as human shields.
Fuel is a lifeline
Fuel means life in Gaza. Without fuel, water cannot be pumpedor desalinated, generators that power hospitals – that keep incubators, ventilators and dialysis machines running and to sterilize surgical equipment – will fail.
Twelve hospitals and 32 medical centers are now out of service after Israeli strikes and fuel depletion, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza. Early Tuesday, the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza had no electricity due to the fuel shortage, Hamas said.
Despite the urgency, no fuel trucks have entered Gaza as part of a humanitarian aid convoy from Egypt’s Rafah border crossing over the weekend, according to Israeli and UN authorities.
However, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff provided a glimmer of hope on Tuesday, saying efforts will be made to provide access to fuel to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. He reiterated Israel’s position that it would “not allow” the fuel to reach Hamas “so they can continue fighting against the citizens of Israel.”
“We will make sure there will be fuel in places where they need fuel to treat civilians,” said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said, without providing further detail on how the IDF might get fuel to those most in need.
Though on Monday, Mark Regev, senior adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told CNN that Israel would not allow fuel into Gaza even if all hostages were released.
“At the moment we have no interest in more fuel going to the Hamas military machine and we have not authorized fuel, we have authorized medicine, we have authorized water. We’ve authorized foodstuffs, we’ve not authorized anything else,” Regev said.
“The government decision is that fuel doesn’t go in because it will be stolen by Hamas and it’ll be used by them to power rockets that are fired into Israel to kill our people.”
However, US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday that while the UN is “watching closely” for signs that Hamas is diverting humanitarian aid meant for civilians in Gaza, they have not reported any such signs to date.
On Monday, Hamas freed two Israeli citizens – both older women – amid growing international pressure to secure the release of the rest of those abducted and taken to Gaza. One of the recently freed captives, 85-year-old grandmother Yocheved Lifshitz later described her ordeal after she was kidnapped by gunmen and taken to Gaza, saying she “went through hell.”
Their release follows that of two American hostages, Judith Tai Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie Raanan, who were freed on Friday.
National Security Council spokesman Kirby wouldn’t say Tuesday if the Israeli bombardment of Gaza was having an adverse effect on efforts to secure the safe extraction of transfer of hostages, telling CNN the Biden administration is still not sure on the location and status of American hostages being held by Hamas.
Hospitals could become ‘mass graves’
In Gaza, outbreaks of chickenpox, scabies, and diarrhea have emerged due to the deteriorating health environment, lack of sanitation, and consumption of water from unsafe sources, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Health based in the occupied West Bank.
Hospitals are nearing collapse, operating at more than 150% of their capacity and situations have become so dire that surgeries are being conducted without anesthesia, and in some cases, under the illumination of phone lights, the Palestinian Authority health ministry added.
Around 50,000 pregnant women are struggling to access health care, with about 166 unsafe births happening daily, and more than 5,000 women due to give birth in the next month, it said.
The Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City – the largest hospital in the enclave – has enough fuel to last a maximum of two days, according to senior surgeon Marwan Abusada on Monday.
Conditions in Al-Shifa are dire, with another doctor saying that without electricity, the hospital “will just be a mass grave” and “there’s nothing to do for these wounded.”
British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah told CNN overnight that the “system is disintegrating” and without a ceasefire and a proper humanitarian corridor, “there’s going to be an even larger catastrophe that the one that already exists here.”
The overwhelmed hospital has run out of burns dressings for the more than 100 patients in the facility with burns covering over 40 percent of their bodies, Abu-Sittah said. More than 150 patients on ventilators with critical injuries are relying on electricity to stay alive, he said.
Hospitals across Gaza are facing similar situations.
A neonatal doctor working in a hospital in southern Gaza told CNN Monday that premature babies relying on oxygen supplies will die if fuel is not urgently delivered into the enclave.
Hatem Edhair, head of Neonatal ICU at Nasser Medical Complex, said all non-emergency facilities have been turned off, as well as lights and air conditioning.
He said 11 babies – most weighing under 1.5 kilograms – are in his neonatal intensive care unit, with admission rates rising as residents from northern Gaza flee south.
Twenty more trucks carrying vital relief aid crossed into Gaza Monday, but aid agencies warn that the current rate of delivery will do little to address the needs of more than 2 million people living in the enclave.
The territory normally receives 455 aid trucks per day, according to the United Nations. That means that with the weekend deliveries, Gaza is more than 7,200 truckloads of aid short of what would normally have been received between October 7 and October 22, CNN calculations suggest.
That’s half of 1 percent – or one two-hundredth – of the amount of aid it ordinarily receives.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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