By NAJIB JOBAIN, SAMY MAGDY and RAVI NESSMAN (Associated Press)
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. warned on Wednesday that without more fuel it will soon sharply curtail relief operations in the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and devastated by Israeli airstrikes since Hamas terrorists 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, and as the U.N.’s top official faced an angry backlash from Israel after saying the Hamas massacre of Israelis that sparked the fighting did not “take place in a vacuum.”
The Health Ministry in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, said airstrikes killed more than 750 people over the past 24 hours, without saying how many were militants. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death toll.
The Israeli military said its strikes killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centers, weapons storehouses and other military targets. It accuses Hamas of magnifying the suffering of Gazan civilians by hiding its terrorists among them. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union.
Hamas and other militants have launched 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 force of a blast in the southern city of Rafah flipped and crumpled cars and left tattered clothing hanging in the branches of a tree.
Another strike destroyed a bakery in a refugee camp in Deir al-Balah, witnesses said. The Hamas-run government said at least 10 people were killed. As witnesses described the attack to an AP journalist, a projectile whistled overhead followed by two bangs — another airstrike hit nearby. Men ran through rubble-strewn streets carrying the injured.
In the wreckage of about 15 houses in Khan Younis, a backhoe peeled away layers of broken concrete tangled with rebar where a home once stood. A worker waded into the rubble and lifted a dead baby from the ruins. A teddy bear lay nearby.
The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with nearly half of them crowded into U.N. shelters.
Gaza’s population has been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas.
In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks with aid to enter from Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.
The U.N. said it has delivered some of the aid to hospitals in the south of Gaza. But the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the largest provider in Gaza, said it was running out of fuel for its trucks, forcing it to reduce operations to ration its supply.
That will impact distribution of food and water and other services, said Lily Esposito, a spokesperson for UNRWA.
More than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities and roughly a third of its hospitals have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.
Overwhelmed hospital staff struggled to triage cases as constant waves of wounded were brought in. The Health Ministry said many wounded are laid on the ground without even simple medical aid and others wait for days for surgeries because there are so many critical cases.
At Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital – located in the north, where aid distribution is barred – the lack of medicine and clean water have led to “alarming” infection rates, the medical aid 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 the floor in a hallway as his mother and sister watched.
The conflict threatened to spread across the region, as Israeli airstrikes hit Syrian military sites Wednesday, killing eight soldiers and wounding seven, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency. The Israeli military said its strikes were in response to rocket launches from Syria.
One airstrike Wednesday hit the international airport in the city of Aleppo, putting its runway out of service, Syrian media reported. It was the fourth attack on the airport since the fighting began.
Israel has also hit the Damascus airport, 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 Wednesday with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas with intelligence and “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
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 people that it captured and brought back to Gaza.
The prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, whose country has helped mediate the release of four hostages held in Gaza, said more breakthroughs were possible, “hopefully soon.”
In the West Bank, Islamic Jihad militants said they fought with Israeli forces in Jenin overnight. The Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin, including a 15-year-old, and two others in other towns. That brought the total number of those killed in the occupied West Bank since Oct. 7 to 102.
On Wednesday, Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio 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.
Magdy reported from Cairo and Keath from Athens. Associated Press writers Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah; Gaza Strip; Aamer Madhani in Washington; Amy Teibel in Jerusalem; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.