Gaza and Jerusalem CNN  — 

Gaza is being “strangled” by Israel’s week-long siege and aerial bombardment, UN experts have warned, as concerns grow that further escalation and a lack of safety for fleeing civilians risks drawing regional foes into the long-running conflict.

The Israeli military launched a barrage of airstrikes and a complete blockade on the Palestinian enclave in response to Hamas’ large-scale deadly incursion on October 7, which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said left at least 1,400 people killed and scores taken hostage.

In over a week of Israeli bombardment, at least 2,808 people, including hundreds of children, have been killed, and more than 11,000 wounded, the Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday, according to the official Palestinian press agency, WAFA. In the occupied West Bank, 58 people have been killed and more than 1,250 injured, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said.

Casualties in Gaza over the past eight days have now surpassed the number of those killed during the 51-day Gaza-Israel conflict in 2014.

Human rights groups have said Israel’s complete siege on essential goods entering Gaza is in violation of international law, as Palestinian civilians warn food, water and fuel supplies are running out.

A Palestinian woman reacts to people wounded by Israeli airstrikes, at al-Aqsa hospital, in central Gaza, on October 15. Relief workers warn the bombardment is destroying the health care system.
Palestinian paramedics cry outside al-Shifa hopsital, in Gaza City, on Monday. Humanitarian groups say the Israeli blockade and airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave are in violation of international law.

US President Joe Biden called Hamas’ rampage in Israel “the worst massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust.” Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday in a show of US support, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced in the early hours of Tuesday from Tel Aviv.

Hamas is believed to be holding 199 Israeli and foreign nationals hostage in Gaza, the IDF’s spokesperson Rear Adm. Dan Hagari said on Monday. 

That number was revised up from the previous figure of 155, with many believed to be held in the warren of tunnels underneath Gaza.

In a video statement late Monday, a spokesperson for Hamas’ militant wing Al-Qassam Brigades said the number of hostages was between 200 and 250.

Diplomatic efforts to establish a humanitarian corridor to send desperately-needed supplies into Gaza are ramping up, before the Israeli blockade causes the 2.3 million people there to completely run out of clean drinking water, food, fuel and medicine.

Aid agencies have warned the siege will result in an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe inside the Palestinian enclave.

“Gaza is being strangled and it seems that the world right now has lost its humanity,” said United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, in an urgent plea for critical aid to be allowed in. “We all know water is life – Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life. ”

Lazzarini said that “not one drop of water, not one grain of wheat, not a liter of fuel” has been allowed into Gaza for the past eight days and people trapped in the densely-populated blockaded strip are desperate.

Limited water supply in Gaza has put the lives of more than 3,500 patients across 35 hospitals at immediate risk, the World Health Organization said on Monday, warning of an “imminent” public health crisis.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office denied there were any arrangements for the opening of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt – the only entry point into the enclave that Israel does not control.

“At the moment there is neither a ceasefire nor humanitarian assistance in the Gaza Strip in return for the exit of foreigners,” the Prime Minister’s office told CNN.

The UN would need to coordinate the movement of fuel trucks with Israel.

TOPSHOT - Smoke billows after an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 16, 2023. The death toll from Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip has risen to around 2,750 since Hamas's deadly attack on southern Israel last week, the Gaza health ministry said October 16. Some 9,700 people have also been injured as Israel continued its withering air campaign on targets in the Palestinian coastal enclave, the Hamas-controlled ministry added. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Double nightmare’

Hospitals in Gaza under constant barrage from Israeli airstrikes face imminent shutdown due to a lack of fuel to run generators that pump water and keep lifesaving equipment such as ventilators and incubators operating, Palestinian Red Crescent Director General Marwan Jilani told CNN. Fuel, he said, would run out by Monday or Tuesday.

On the brink of collapse, hospitals have run out of painkillers and many Gazans are beginning to suffer from severe dehydration due to lack of drinking water, according to medical NGO Medecins sans Frontieres. Multiple aid agencies have said fuel and other necessities could run out in hours, not days.

People walk amid the destruction of houses and streets in Khan Younis, located in the southern Gaza Strip.
Palestinians look for their belongings in the rubble in Gaza City, on Monday. Attacks by the Israeli military have destroyed entire neighborhoods inside the strip.

The 50,000 pregnant women currently in Gaza – 5,000 of whom are due to give birth in the coming month – face a “double nightmare,” said UN Population Fund (UNFPA) representative Dominic Allen, and face having their babies in unsanitary conditions, risking health complications while under the threat of bombs.

Dozens of unidentified bodies have been buried in mass graves in Gaza City, including children, babies, women, men and elderly people, according to the head of the Hamas-controlled government media office Salama Marouf.

Social media videos verified by CNN show dozens of bodies wrapped in white plastic brought from Gaza’s Shifa hospital to a burial site where they were laid to rest in neat rows.

Compounding the critical situation are the hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes in northern Gaza and attempting to head south through the battered streets ahead of an Israeli offensive that the IDF said would include widespread strikes and “significant ground operations.”

UNRWA’s Lazzarini said at least 1 million people were forced to flee their homes in one week alone and at least 400,000 displaced people are taking shelter in UN schools and buildings, but there is little space to cope with the numbers of displaced.

Shtayyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, urged the international community to stop Israel’s shelling and end the blockade. He warned against displacing people in Gaza and creating a new Nakba or “catastrophe,” WAFA reported on Monday.

The Nakba refers to the period after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, when about 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled from their homes in what is now Israel.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog on Sunday described the “horrific scenes” he saw from the Hamas assault on Israeli homes and communities, including a booklet he claimed contains tactics used by the militant group to kidnap and torture people.

“My nation is bleeding, my nation is in pain. My nation is in sorrow. And we are faced with an extremely cruel, inhumane enemy which we have to uproot with no mercy,” he told CNN.

The Palestinian Health Ministry accused the Israeli military of “direct targeting of medical staff and their families.”

‘Mammoth’ diplomatic efforts

Frantic calls to open humanitarian corridors into Gaza have grown in urgency and number in recent days, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis and several nations and international aid agencies among them.

UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said “mammoth diplomatic efforts” are underway with Guterres and many member states “exercising what leverage they can.”

“We are looking at potentially thousands of deaths if this aid doesn’t get through,” Shamdasani told CNN.

President Herzog said Sunday he was meeting again with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss establishing a humanitarian corridor but further plans to execute such a route would need to include “Israeli cabinet and government under Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu and the new national unity emergency government.”

The top US diplomat has been visiting Israel and neighboring countries in recent days, meeting with various regional leaders.

On Sunday Blinken promised the Rafah border crossing “will be open” and that the United States was working with the UN, Egypt, Israel and others to coordinate aid efforts.

China’s top diplomat Wang Yi accused Israel over the weekend of going “beyond the scope of self-defense.” China’s Middle East envoy Zhai Jun said he would visit the region this week.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to members of the media before leaving Cairo, Egypt, on October 15, en route to Jordan.

Aid has been piling up on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing; Egypt says that airstrikes on the Gaza side have made roads inoperable, and Jordan has said it is seeking assurance that aid convoys will not be targeted by Israeli warplanes.

The UN’s emergency relief chief, Martin Griffiths, reiterated the desperate need for aid to get into Gaza, earlier on Monday. Griffiths will travel to Cairo on Tuesday for a several day long mission that will include a visit to Israel, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

France said it will give 10 million euros ($10.55 million) to UN agencies and NGOs to help humanitarian efforts in Gaza. French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna told reporters on Monday the “aid is ready.”

It is unclear how the aid will cross the border amid airstrikes on Gaza.

Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Herzog told CNN Israel is in the process of creating a humanitarian zone in Gaza while the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, said he could not confirm whether the UN is working with the Israeli government to establish such a zone.

It is also unclear if water is now flowing into southern Gaza.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office told CNN Sunday that Israel has restored water to the south of the strip, but the director of Gaza’s water authority disputed that Monday.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus later said Israel has “opened taps” on its side to allow water to enter southern Gaza, but he said he “doesn’t have visibility on exactly how much is actually flowing where it should.”

Gen. Wesley Clark
Military analyst: Hamas is losing the second phase of their plan already
02:16 - Source: CNN

Hamas releases hostage video

Hamas released a video on Monday of a French-Israeli woman being held hostage in the Gaza Strip. It is the first hostage video released of any person believed to be held in the territory.

In the video, 21-year-old Mia Schem says she suffered an arm injury and was taken to Gaza. A representative for the family of Schem told CNN they had approved the publication and broadcast of the video.

It is unclear when the video was taken or whether Schem is still alive.

In a statement Monday night, the IDF said it had informed Schem’s family about her kidnapping last week and are keeping in touch with them.

An undated image of Mia Schem, who is being held hostage by Hamas.

Earlier on Monday, Abu Obaida, a spokesperson for Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, said there were between 200-250 hostages held in Gaza. Abu Obaida said Al-Qassam Brigades held 200 hostages, while the rest are with other “militant formations” in the territory, adding that they cannot determine the exact number due to constant Israeli bombardment.

Abu Obaida also said 22 of the hostages were killed in Israeli airstrikes, including an Israeli artist whom he said lost his life on Saturday.

CNN cannot independently verify those claims.

Abu Obaida added that the Al-Qassam Brigades will be releasing hostages holding foreign citizenship when “the opportunity arises on the ground,” and said Al-Qassam is “committed” to protecting them. He also warned that any foreign national serving with the Israeli military will be considered a “direct enemy.”

In its statement, the IDF said it is using “all intelligence and operational means to return the abductees,” which it says number 199 Israeli and foreign nationals.

Regional concerns grow

As Israel battles Hamas, it also faces the threat of a wider conflict on new fronts, with hostilities with Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah in the north, and Syria, being potential flash points.

Early Tuesday morning, the IDF said it was striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

A regional conflagration has Western powers concerned: French President Emmanuel Macron “warned” his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi against an escalation of the Gaza crisis on Sunday and the US has been increasing its defense posture in the Middle East to deter any Iranian aggression or an expansion of the fighting beyond Israel’s borders, according to a US official.

Additional US attack aircraft including A-10 Warthogs arrived in the Middle East Sunday joining squadrons of fighter jets already deployed as well as two US carrier strike groups deployed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The White House said on Monday Biden will postpone a trip to Colorado for “national security meetings.”

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told MSNBC the president is “laser-focused on this war against Hamas.”

Israeli soldiers gather on and around a tank near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel on October 15.

Speaking to CBS Sunday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that while there is no new intelligence the threat level from Iran has changed, “there is a risk of an escalation of this conflict.”

Iran has warned of the consequences of a possible larger escalation if Israel continues to attack Gaza.

CNN’s Amir Tal, Richard Allen Greene, Ben Wedeman, Hamdi Alkhshali, Jasmine Wright, Nikki Carvajal, Sehar Ahmed, Chloe Liu, Niamh Kennedy, Mostafa Salem, Duarte Mendonca, Xiaofei Xu, Radina Gigova, Zachary Cohen, Yong Xiong, Sharon Braithwaite, Teele Rebane, Mihir Melwani, Manveena Suri, Pierre Meilhan, DJ Judd, Nadeen Ebrahim, Richard Roth and Joseph Ataman contributed reporting.