As fighting empties north Gaza, humanitarian crisis worsens in south

by Sophia Chen
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Gaza humanitarian crisis

As northern Gaza becomes increasingly deserted due to ongoing conflicts, the humanitarian situation in the southern regions has deteriorated significantly.

Since November 5, an additional 200,000 individuals have evacuated northern Gaza, as reported by the United Nations humanitarian office on Tuesday. This mass exodus occurs amidst intense clashes between Israeli ground forces and Palestinian militants. Critical medical facilities, including hospitals, are caught in the crossfire, trapping patients, newborns, and medical staff without electricity and essential supplies.

The UN office, OCHA, notes that currently, only one hospital in northern Gaza is operational for treating patients. The remaining hospitals are either dysfunctional or converted into shelters, providing scant refuge from the conflict. Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, now surrounded by Israeli troops, is a prime example. It faces a dire situation with 36 infants at risk due to the lack of power for their incubators.

This war, which erupted six weeks ago following an unexpected Hamas attack on Israel, has led to the massacre of numerous civilians and the taking of approximately 240 hostages back to Gaza by militants. In response, Israel initiated intense airstrikes for three weeks, followed by a ground invasion into the north. The conflict has resulted in the death of thousands of Palestinian civilians and substantial destruction across the impoverished territory.

Civilians in Gaza City and its northern outskirts have been advised by Israel to evacuate. However, the southern part of Gaza remains perilously unsafe, with frequent airstrikes targeting militant positions but often causing casualties among women and children.

As a result of the conflict, UN-run shelters in the south are facing severe overcrowding, with resources stretched thin. The situation has led to long queues for basic necessities like bread and water, mounting garbage, and flooded streets due to overflowing sewage. The absence of fuel, exacerbated by Israel’s blockade citing military concerns, has halted water pumps and treatment plants.

The recent onset of cold, rainy weather has further compounded the hardships. For instance, at a tent camp near Deir al-Balah’s central hospital, residents endure muddy conditions while trying to fortify their fragile shelters against the weather. Iqbal Abu Saud, who fled Gaza City with her family, expresses her distress over the challenging conditions.

The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, already struggling to provide essential services to over 600,000 people in southern shelters, faces the prospect of running out of fuel imminently, which would severely hinder aid operations. The agency also reports difficulties in transporting limited food and medical supplies through the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s sole connection to the external world.

The conflict has also brought the state of hospitals into sharp focus for both warring parties. For example, Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals like Shifa as strategic covers, a claim denied by both Hamas and the hospital staff. The Israeli military, supporting its allegations, released footage from a recent operation in a children’s hospital, purportedly showing weapons and evidence of militant activities.

Conversely, the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza refutes these claims, insisting that the facilities in question were used as shelters for displaced persons and denying any connection to nearby tunnels discovered by Israeli forces.

Shifa Hospital, struggling with limited supplies, continues to treat war casualties, including children, under extremely challenging conditions. With the recent mass exodus, the hospital remains operational but barely, housing numerous patients and staff along with thousands of displaced Palestinians.

The Health Ministry reports the death of 32 patients, including infants, due to the depletion of fuel for emergency generators. It also raises concerns over the fate of 36 babies and other patients at risk.

In a recent statement, the Israeli military announced initiatives to transfer incubators from Israel to Shifa Hospital. However, details regarding the delivery and operation of these incubators remain unclear.

International law mandates special protections for hospitals during conflicts. These protections can be forfeited if combatants use the facilities for military purposes, but adequate warning and consideration for civilian impact are required.

Efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to evacuate people from another hospital, Al-Quds, were hampered by ongoing shelling and conflict. Meanwhile, Israel released a video alleging the presence of militants with weapons at Al-Quds Hospital.

The U.S. has advocated for temporary ceasefires to facilitate the distribution of crucial aid, with Israel agreeing to limited daily windows for civilian evacuation from northern Gaza.

As of the latest reports, over 11,000 Palestinians, predominantly women and minors, have perished since the war’s onset. The Health Ministry in Gaza, while not differentiating between civilian and militant casualties, acknowledges the difficulty in updating these figures.

On the Israeli side, approximately 1,200 people, mostly civilians, have fallen victim to the initial Hamas assault. Additionally, the Israeli military reports the loss of 46 soldiers and the elimination of thousands of militants in Gaza operations.

About 250,000 Israelis have evacuated areas near Gaza and the northern border due to ongoing rocket attacks by Palestinian militants and exchanges of fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

The conflict has also escalated tensions in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, with a recent Israeli raid

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Gaza humanitarian crisis

What has caused the recent mass evacuation in northern Gaza?

The mass evacuation in northern Gaza has been triggered by intense clashes between Israeli ground forces and Palestinian militants. This conflict has led to the displacement of 200,000 people since November 5, as civilians flee areas caught in the crossfire, seeking refuge from the ongoing violence.

How has the conflict in Gaza affected medical facilities and patients?

The conflict in Gaza has severely impacted medical facilities and patients. Hospitals, including Gaza’s largest, Shifa, are either non-operational or converted into shelters. Patients, newborns, and medical staff are stranded without electricity, leading to critical shortages of essential supplies and medical care.

What is the current humanitarian situation in southern Gaza?

In southern Gaza, the humanitarian situation is dire. UN-run shelters are severely overcrowded and basic necessities like food, water, and medical supplies are scarce. The lack of fuel has resulted in a crisis in sanitation and water supply, further exacerbated by cold, rainy weather conditions.

What are the allegations regarding the use of hospitals by Hamas?

Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals, such as Shifa, as strategic cover for their fighters. They allege that Hamas has set up command centers in these hospitals. However, these claims are denied by both Hamas and the staff of the hospitals, including Shifa.

What are the challenges faced by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees?

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees is struggling to provide basic services to over 600,000 people sheltering in the south of Gaza. They face a potential fuel shortage which could halt most aid operations, and they are also unable to continuously import limited supplies of food and medicine due to the conflict.

What has been the response of the international community to the Gaza conflict?

The international community, including the U.S., has pushed for temporary pauses in the conflict to allow the distribution of aid. However, Israel has only agreed to limited daily windows for civilian evacuation. International law mandates special protections for hospitals during conflicts, which are a point of contention in this situation.

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