• UN terms situation in besieged enclave ‘unprecedented human catastrophe’; UNSC reviewing draft resolutions
• Tel Aviv claims water supply restored to south Gaza; US fears hostilities could extend to Lebanon
• Entire Palestinian families wiped out in bombardment
GAZA STRIP: More than one million people have been displaced by sustained Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip over the past week, the UN said on Sunday, as it termed the situation in the besieged enclave an ‘unprecedented human catastrophe’.
Seven days of relentless bombing have left almost 2,500 people dead, the majority ordinary Palestinians. Another 10,000 people have been wounded.
Meanwhile, UN Security Council members held difficult talks on a possible resolution, with two drafts — one from Russia and another from Brazil — currently on the negotiating table, diplomats said.
On Friday, Russia circulated a draft that calls for “an immediate, durable and fully respected humanitarian ceasefire”.
That draft calls for “unimpeded” humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip, which had already been under a years-long Israeli blockade.
The Russian draft “strongly condemns all violence and hostilities directed against civilians and all acts of terrorism”.
Amid efforts to push Gazans south, Israel claimed to have resumed the water supply to that part of the strip.
Minister Israel Katz said the decision was taken after talks between his PM, Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also visited frontline troops in the south on Saturday, telling them “more is coming”, but without specifying when a ground invasion of Gaza would start.
But ahead of Tel Aviv’s expected assault on Gaza, the Arab League and African Union warned that any such move “could lead to a genocide of unprecedented proportions”.
Both bodies called on “the United Nations and the international community to stop a catastrophe unfolding in front of us, before it is too late”.
“No one can guarantee control of the situation and non-expansion of the conflict” if Israel sends its soldiers into Gaza, said Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
US fears widening of hostilities
Meanwhile, US officials have warned that Israel’s war against Palestinians could escalate into a bigger conflict across the Middle East, worrying that Hezbollah could attack Israel’s north, or even that Iran might get involved.
In a bid to prevent such an escalation, another set of US warships headed to the region in a show of force, over the weekend.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS that “there is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north and, of course, Iran’s involvement.”
The comments were echoed by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who told Fox News that the White House was worried about “a potential escalation or a widening of this conflict.”
Iran Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned his country could act, telling Al Jazeera that it had conveyed a message to Israeli officials that “if they do not cease their atrocities in Gaza, Iran cannot simply remain an observer.”
“If the scope of the war expands, significant damages will also be inflicted upon America,” he warned.
Entire families perish
Many Gaza residents have lost entire families in air strikes by Israel and are bracing for even more destruction.
Um Mohammad Al Laham’s four-year-old granddaughter Fulla Al Laham lay in a Gaza hospital. She said an Israeli air hit on her home killed 14 people, including Fulla’s parents, siblings and members of her extended family.
“All of a sudden and without warning, they bombed the house on top of the residents inside. No one survived except my grandchild Fulla,” said the grandmother.
“Fourteen people martyred, no one was left except Fulla,” she said. “She doesn’t talk, nothing, just remains in her bed and they give medicine.”
One other four-year-old child in the extended family had also been left with almost no relatives.
In Khan Younis, southern Gaza, Mohamed Abo Dakka said his family was still under the rubble after an Israeli strike.
“I lost my son, my cousins, and the whole family,” he said. “I didn’t lose them because they were arrested for fighting on the front lines… we were just at home, sitting at home.
“We can’t find equipment to search and pull them out.”
Palestinians carrying whatever belongings they can, in bags and suitcases, or packed onto three-wheeled motorbikes, battered cars, vans and even donkey carts have become a common sight in recent days.
But they have had to find shelter wherever they can in the increasingly crowded south of the Gaza Strip, including in streets and UN-run schools.
Convoys of humanitarian aid are stacked up on the Egyptian side, according to witnesses.
Some residents have said they would not leave, recalling the Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948 when many Palestinians were forced from their homes during the war that accompanied Israel’s creation.
But electricity outages threaten to cripple life-support systems, from sea water desalination plants to food refrigeration and hospital incubators.
In Rome, Pope Francis called for humanitarian corridors in Gaza and urged that “children, the sick, the elderly, women and all civilians should not fall victim to the conflict”.
“There have already been so many deaths, please let’s not shed any more innocent blood,” he said, castigating “the diabolical force of hatred, terrorism and war”.
Fear has also gripped Israelis about the fate of some 120 prisoners being held in the Gaza Strip.
“We must bring them back home alive,” said a tearful Yrat Zailer, the aunt of two children aged nine months and four years who were taken prisoner with their mother.
Tel Aviv has also pushed on with its own evacuation of southern towns close to Gaza that were targeted in the Hamas raids.
Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2023