People in the Gaza Strip sought refuge in bombed-out hospitals as Israel vowed on Saturday to “take stronger action” in its war with Hamas, a day after the United States blocked a ceasefire offer at the United Nations. Aid groups say Gaza is facing an “apocalyptic” humanitarian situation and is on the verge of being ravaged by disease and hunger.
According to the latest figures from Gaza’s Health Ministry, at least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory.
Washington on Friday vetoed a U.N. resolution that would have called for a ceasefire, a move that was strongly condemned by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and humanitarian groups.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement: “I greatly appreciate the right stance of the United States” and vowed to “continue our just war to eliminate Hamas.”
An AFP journalist said thousands of Gazans sought refuge at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, which is no longer functioning and was partially destroyed after an Israeli raid last month.
Hundreds of makeshift tents made from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital’s courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.
Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the Shejaiya district, said he fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.
“It was crazy. A shell hit the house and injured my 20-year-old son,” he told AFP.
“We fled to the old town, everything was just strikes and destruction… we didn’t know where to go,” he said. “We don’t know if they will storm the hospital again.”
According to Hamas health authorities, 71 deaths occurred in the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah alone in 24 hours, and 62 in the Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
An AFP correspondent at Nasser Hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting on the floor for care as firefighters outside tried to put out a burning building partially destroyed by an Israeli attack.
Alexandra Saieh from Save the Children spoke of “maggots being picked from wounds and children being amputated without anesthesia.”
The situation “is not just a catastrophe, it is apocalyptic,” added Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.
Israel has vowed to root out Hamas after its unprecedented attacks on October 7, when militants breached Gaza’s militarized border, killing about 1,200 people and taking hostages, 138 of whom Israel says are still captive.
Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi said he needed to “take stronger action” in his campaign in Gaza.
“We are seeing more and more terrorists being killed, more and more terrorists being wounded, and in the last few days we are seeing terrorists surrendering – this is a sign that their network is falling apart,” he said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.
In Tel Aviv, some Israelis staged a peace demonstration while others staged a performance calling for the hostages to be returned home.
‘Into the Abyss’
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a rare Security Council vote on a ceasefire on Friday, saying “the people of Gaza are staring into the abyss.”
But the veto was vetoed by the US, whose envoy Robert Wood said it was “detached from reality” and “would leave Hamas in place and able to repeat what it did on October 7.” .
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said a ceasefire would save Hamas, “which commits war crimes and crimes against humanity, and allow it to continue to rule the Gaza Strip.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said after the veto that he “holds the United States responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and the elderly.”
Avril Benoit, head of the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), described the US veto as a “sharp contrast to the values it supposedly upholds”.
There was also anger in a residential area of Rafah that was decimated by an Israeli attack.
“What resolution has the Security Council ever adopted and implemented for our cause and the Palestinian people?” said a resident Mohammed al-Khatib amid the rubble.
Iran, which backs Hamas, warned it could lead to an “uncontrollable explosion of the situation in the region”, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the UN body as the “Israel Protection Council”.
An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced.
Prevented from leaving the narrow area, they have turned Rafah into a huge camp near the border crossing into Egypt.
The Israeli army says it lost 93 soldiers in the campaign and two others were injured in a failed attempt to free hostages on Thursday evening.
Hamas said one hostage, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, which was later confirmed by his kibbutz community in Beeri, one of the hardest hit on October 7.
As air, sea and ground fighting continued, the military said troops found weapons at a school in Gaza City and were fired on from a school and a mosque run by the U.N. agency.
Hamas’ armed wing said it fired rockets at Reim in southern Israel – the site of the Supernova music festival where Israel said 364 people were killed on October 7.
There are fears of a larger regional conflict with regular exchanges between Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon.
The Israeli army said on Saturday it had retaliated after unspecified “takeoffs” from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.
Violence has also increased in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the military says it has arrested 2,200 people, including 1,800 Hamas members, since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
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