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‘Why has the world abandoned us?’ Palestinians in Gaza plead for humanitarian relief

At the al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, there is no more room in the morgue for people killed in Israel’s bombardment of the territory, so staff have placed 20 bodies in an in ice cream van still decorated with pictures of happy children licking cones.

At least 10 bodies wrapped in sheets were laid on nearby ground. At the hospital morgue, Hosny Abu Sheira said his sister’s house was destroyed in an air raid. “I saw her body and that of her son and several others. They are still bringing out dead people from under the rubble. So far there are nine bodies.”

Inside the hospital, Kholoud, 27, a wounded relative, lay on a bed, her hair and face still covered in dust. She blamed herself for the deaths of family members who had taken refuge in her home. “They wanted to go back to their house but I stopped them. I made them stay to die.”

As Israel continues its military response to Hamas’s October 7 attacks and fears mount of a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, it faces increasing pressure from western states to minimise civilian casualties in the hemmed-in strip, to allow people to move to safe areas and grant access to aid.

Israel has cut off supplies of electricity, water and goods to Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Some 2.3mn people in the 40km-long Palestinian enclave, almost half of them children, are fast running out of drinking water, fresh food and fuel to keep generators in hospitals running.

Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said in a social media post on Sunday: “The spectre of death is hanging over Gaza. With no water, no power, no food and no medicine, thousands will die.”

At least 2,329 people have been killed in Israel’s weeklong bombardment of Gaza © Adel Hana/AP

At least 2,329 people have been killed in Israel’s weeklong bombardment of Gaza, including many women and children, according to Palestinian health officials, with nearly 10,000 injured. More than 1,400 people inside Israel, mostly civilians, were killed in Hamas’ multipronged attack last weekend, according to Israeli authorities.

After Israel ordered an evacuation of northern parts of Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled south. The displacement increased the burden on UN schools and other facilities unequipped to cope with a huge influx of people.

In Rafah, southern Gaza, many shops only had tinned foods in stock and there were scant supplies of water or gas for cooking. Unlike Gaza’s other border points, the crossing at Rafah is controlled by Egypt rather than Israel.

“I have been trying to buy a gas container for two days,” said Mesbah Balawai, 45. “I have 70 people at home and we are barely managing to provide bread and some cheese. Sometimes the children sleep hungry. Our lives are tragic. Why has the world abandoned us?”

Ibrahim Berbekh, 37, stood in a line to buy fresh water. “Animals live better than us. We have had no water to drink or bathe for days,” he said. “We are having to drink salty water. Prices have gone up and we have no money.”

On Sunday evening, Israel said it had partially resumed water supplies to southern Gaza, after an agreement reached between prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden.

Palestinians collect water from a tap as supplies run low © Fatima Shbair/AP

Energy minister Israel Katz’s office confirmed the resumption of supplies, saying the move would still allow Israel “to tighten the unprecedented general siege on Gaza without electricity, without water and without fuel until Hamas is eliminated”.

Israel’s siege “has to be lifted”, said Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the UN Palestinians refugee agency UNRWA. “We have not been able to bring in one grain of wheat in the past eight days.”

The agency has moved its operations to a warehouse in Rafah where she said thousands of people have taken refuge. “It is a logistic space and it is not meant to house people, There are no toilets there.” Touma warned of the spread of disease because of water shortages.

UNRWA staff, she said, were having to ration themselves to a litre of drinking water a day, adding that desalination plants providing water to Gaza could not operate as a result of the fuel shortages.

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA commissioner-general, warned on Saturday that “fuel needs to be delivered now into Gaza to make water available for 2mn people”.

Such pressures are evident throughout Gaza. At the Dar al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, some 40,000 displaced people have moved to the hospital to seek refuge from air strikes

Conditions at the hospital were “terrible”, said Gabriel Naumann, Médecins Sans Frontières’ advocacy officer in Jerusalem. “Supplies are running out, there is very little fuel to keep generators running and the doctors are on the verge of collapse.”

At the European Gaza hospital in Khan Younis, Youssef al-Aqqad, the director, said civilians injured in air strikes had often lost their homes and entire families so they ask to stay in the hospital.

“We made a deal with them,” he said. “After a few days when they have improved, they can sleep on the floor and leave their bed for a newly-injured person.”

The hospital could not offer food to patients and fuel stocks would run out in a few days’ time.

And in a sign of Gaza’s deepening crisis, he added: “Our generators are old and decrepit, if at any moment they stop, then 20 people in the intensive care unit will die.”

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