Medical and relief workers are pleading for safe passage for the 2 million civilians in Gaza as Israel pounds the enclave with airstrikes and imposes a complete siege, in response to the brutal attack launched by the militant group Hamas.
Time is running out for the residents crammed into the increasingly battered 140-square-mile territory under Israeli and Egyptian blockades, as supplies of food and water run low. Families are desperately searching for shelter as missiles flatten buildings and towers. Medical supplies are in dire shortage. And most of the enclave has already lost power, after the fuel that generates electricity ran out on Wednesday.
At least 1,500 Palestinians, including 500 children, have so far been killed in Gaza, and over 6,000 others injured, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
In Israel, at 1,200 people have been killed, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said on Wednesday. Israel also said that up to 150 hostages, including civilians, have been taken to Gaza by Hamas – which controls the strip.
Relief groups are calling for the protection of the many civilians in Gaza who continue to bear the brunt of the bloody war between Hamas and Israel, urging that an emergency corridor be established for the transfer of humanitarian aid.
Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz on Thursday said Israel would deprive the strip of electricity, water and fuel until Hamas returns the hostages.
“No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” Katz wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter. “And no one will preach us morals,” he added.
Responding to a question about whether Israel is upholding the laws of warfare with its siege on Gaza, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Thursday his country “abides by international law, operates by international law.”
“Every operation is secured and covered and reviewed legally with all due respect,” Herzog told CNN’s Becky Anderson at a press briefing in Jerusalem, adding that talk about war crimes is “totally out of context.”
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the co-founder of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), warned the complete siege of Gaza will pollute water and reduce oxygen supplies, depleting health indicators, including infant and maternal mortality rates, poverty, starvation and the spread of waterborne diseases and gastrointestinal infections.
“You will have a very big rise of maternal mortality of women who are going to give birth under terrible conditions. We will see epidemics starting to spread in Gaza,” he said. “That’s also besides the number of people who will be killed by Israeli air strikes.
“We are heading towards a complete paralysis of the medical system there.”
Human Rights Watch earlier this week criticized Israel’s call for the complete siege as a form of “collective punishment” and a “war crime.”
Calls for a humanitarian corridor
The Israeli blockade on Gaza has crippled the health system inside the Palestinian enclave, medical workers told CNN, as emergency teams struggle to triage patients amid dwindling medical supplies.
Barghouti, the PMRS co-founder, said patients with pre-existing health conditions, including cancer and chronic kidney failure, are at risk of death because the siege has blocked access to fresh drugs.
The PMRS has 180 doctors, nurses and psychotherapists stationed inside Gaza, alongside thousands of volunteers, he told CNN on Wednesday.
“I receive calls around the clock from our people there [in Gaza], patients with kidney problems who need kidney dialysis, telling me that they could die in a few days,” said Barghouti, who is also the leader of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party headquartered in the occupied West Bank.
“Our medical teams are finding great difficulty moving from one place to another because, as people will say, there is no safe place at all. So it’s a disaster in front of our eyes.”
A British-Palestinian surgeon working in Gaza, Ghassan Abu-Sitta, said that unless a humanitarian corridor replenishes the system, hospitals may not make it to the end of the week.
“Unless there is a cessation of the bombing and the humanitarian corridor (opens), the Palestinian health system will not survive beyond the week,” Abu-Sitta, who was working inside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City but is now operating from a hospital in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp, told CNN.
The doctor is yet to see any aid come through.
Hospitals all over Gaza are overwhelmed with patients, he said, adding that power is limited to generators and already scarce drinking water is being transported in tanks. Concerns of diseases spreading, including cholera, are growing, Abu-Sitta added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Thursday that Gaza likely only has enough fuel for a few more hours.
“I wanted to say we are going toward a catastrophe, but we are already in the catastrophe,” ICRC’s regional director for the Middle East told reporters during a briefing in Geneva, adding that the humanitarian situation will soon become “unmanageable.”
Gaza’s health infrastructure is close to a breaking point, Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, said Thursday. All beds are occupied, and there is no room for new patients in critical condition, Al-Qudra said.
Earlier Thursday the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hospitals in Gaza “risk turning into morgues” amid power cuts.
The Palestinian Minister of Health Mai Al Kaila on Thursday called for urgent international help to field hospitals in Gaza. Medical supplies, emergency departments and intensive care units are urgently needed, she said.
Rafah Crossing: the only way in or out
With the current Israeli siege, the only corridor through which Palestinians or aid can pass in and out of Gaza is the Rafah Crossing, which connects Gaza to Egypt.
Egypt on Thursday denied reports of the crossing being closed, saying it has however sustained damage due to repeated Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian side of the border.
Palestinian officials in Gaza had said two days earlier that the crossing had been closed due to Israeli airstrikes. CNN could not independently verify whether the crossing is open or closed.
In a statement, Egypt called on international partners to send humanitarian and relief aid to Palestinians in Gaza, adding that Egyptian authorities will be receiving aid packages at the Al-Arish International Airport in north Sinai.
A Jordanian plane carrying medical aid for Gaza left for Egypt on Thursday, according to a statement from the Jordanian Hashemite Charitable Organization, a state-run relief agency, adding that the supplies will be delivered to medical authorities in Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.
It is unclear how the aid will cross the border amid airstrikes on Gaza.
CNN has reached out to the Egyptian government about the status of Rafah crossing, whether aid will be able to pass through, and whether Palestinians fleeing the conflict will be able to cross into Egyptian territory.
The US said it is in talks with Israel and Egypt about creating a humanitarian corridor through which civilians can cross.
“We’re talking to Israel about that. We’re talking to Egypt about that (getting civilians out of Gaza),” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday prior to departing for Israel.
A senior Israeli official told CNN on Wednesday talks are “underway” to allow US citizens and Palestinian civilians in Gaza to cross over into Egypt ahead of any possible land invasion of the territory by Israeli forces.
The official with knowledge of the negotiations told CNN’s Matthew Chance on Wednesday that under the proposal being discussed, all American citizens would be permitted to pass through the Rafah border crossing if they present their US passports, while the movement of other Palestinian civilians would be limited to 2,000 people a day.
Final approval of the arrangement would need to come from the Egyptians, who control the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, but the Israeli official said it was “in Israel’s interests” for as many Palestinians as possible to leave Gaza.
The IDF on Wednesday said it has amassed some 300,000 reservists near the Gaza border.
“They (Hamas) will regret this moment – Gaza will never return to what it was,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said earlier.
Additional reporting by Ibrahim Dahman in Gaza, Celine Alkhaldi and Abeer Salman in Jerusalem, Sharon Braithwaite in London, Pierre Meilhan, Jennifer Hansler, Kevin Liptak and Rosa Rahimi.