The United Nations warned Sunday there are signs “civil order is starting to break down” in Gaza, reporting that thousands of desperate Palestinians are taking basic items like flour and hygiene supplies from warehouses as Israel stepped up its operation in the territory.
At a news conference, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the situation in Gaza was “growing more desperate by the hours.”
Already dire conditions in Gaza cratered after telecommunications lines went down on Friday evening – deepening challenges for medical services and leaving aid agencies out of touch with their staff on the ground in the densely populated territory that’s home to more than 2 million people.
The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) also acknowledged that some of its aid supplies were taken, warning of “growing hunger.”
“This is a sign of people losing hope and becoming more desperate by the minute. They are hungry, isolated, and have been suffering violence and immense distress for three weeks,” said Samer AbdelJaber, WFP Representative and country director for Palestine.
Some 94 aid trucks have entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt so far, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, after 10 trucks containing food and medical supplies entered the enclave on Sunday.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a video posted on Sunday to the group’s official social media that “humanitarian efforts to Gaza, led by Egypt and the United States will be expanding” on Monday, without providing further details.
The Israeli military has denied shortages of food, water or medicine in Gaza, despite a growing chorus of aid agencies releasing dire warnings about shortages. The UN has said that a humanitarian ceasefire could facilitate the “necessary massive scale up” in delivery of much-needed aid to people in the territory.
The taking of supplies “is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza. People are scared, frustrated and desperate,” said Thomas White, director of affairs in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
White said mass displacement of people from northern Gaza to the south was putting huge pressure on communities and already crumbling public services. “The needs of the communities are immense, if only for basic survival, while the aid we receive is meager and inconsistent,” he said.
This pressure may ramp up as the Israeli military said Sunday it was “increasing the urgency” of its calls for people in northern Gaza to flee south, a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had launched the “second stage” of its war against Hamas.
The UN and humanitarian groups have criticized calls to move southwards, pointing to the challenges of moving within Gaza while it is under attack.
It’s unclear how widely Gazans received the call to move south, as communications severed across much of the territory since Friday night were only partially restored as of Sunday morning, according to two service providers and a monitoring group.
Israel expands ground operation
Hamas’ October 7 attack, which sparked the latest conflict, killed more than 1,400 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to the IDF. Following the attack, Israel ordered a “complete siege” of Gaza and declared war.
At least 7,950 Palestinians have since been killed and more than 20,000 others injured in Israeli airstrikes, according to the latest figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, which draws from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas and rescue the more than 200 hostages that the militant group captured during the October 7 attack. But more than 2 million Palestinians are caught in their line of fire.
Israeli officials on Saturday confirmed a significant expansion of what it had described as “targeted raids” in Gaza earlier in the week, saying ground forces had entered the territory overnight Friday. On Sunday, Hagari said the operation will continue to intensify.
Israeli troops have advanced more than two miles into Gaza, according to a CNN analysis of video published by an Israeli media outlet.
The troops in the video, taken on Saturday, are seen putting an Israeli flag on a Gaza resort hotel’s roof.
The video is one of the first glimpses into where Israeli ground forces have been and what they’ve been doing during the expanded ground operation.
In a statement Sunday, the IDF said it had struck more than 450 targets over the past day, including command centers, observation posts and missile launch sites.
Al Quds Hospital, the second largest in Gaza city has been warned by the Israeli military to “immediately evacuate” ahead of a possible bombardment, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS). World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the evacuation threats to Al Quds Hospital “deeply concerning.”
“It’s impossible to evacuate hospitals full of patients without endangering their lives,” he said in a post on social media Sunday, adding: “Under International Humanitarian Law, healthcare must always be protected.”
The hospital director, Dr. Bashar Mourad, told CNN Sunday that there was “no safe route” for people to flee and said targeting the hospital would be a “war crime.” He added: “Our ambulances attempted to move south through Salah Al Din Street, but they were targeted with artillery fire. The bombings are occurring all around us.”
The PRCS said Sunday that Israeli airstrikes have already caused “extensive damage” to the hospital and exposed patients and residents to “suffocation.”
The organization added that the hospital is currently treating hundreds of patients, including wounded people, patients in intensive care and children in incubators. In addition, approximately 12,000 internally displaced civilians are sheltering at the hospital, PRCS said.
Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) told CNN’s Melissa Bell on Sunday that anyone who targets civilian infrastructure in the Israel-Gaza conflict will need to “justify every strike.”
Khan said this includes “every decision maker, from head of government, to military advisors, to lawyers that have targeting-making decisions,” and warned that denying humanitarian assistance to civilians is a crime.
The ICC is an independent organization that has jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Even though Israel is not party to the ICC’s authority, since it is a UN member state the UN Security Council can still refer Israel’s actions to the ICC.
Hostage negotiations continue
In a Saturday statement, the UN said a ceasefire could facilitate the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza.
Israel is still working to determine exactly how many people are being held hostage in Gaza, but the IDF said Saturday they had notified the families of 230 people believed to currently be captive there.
The Israeli government has been under public pressure to ensure the safety of the hostages amid its escalating campaign against Hamas, with senior officials portraying the intensifying campaign as part of a strategy to secure their release.
Yahya Al-Sinwar, the chief of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, said Saturday the group was ready to initiate a comprehensive prisoner swap to release all hostages held by his group in exchange for the estimated 6,630 Palestinians in Israeli prisons — a proposition that could be hugely controversial in Israel.
In a Saturday news conference, families of hostages said they told Netanyahu they would accept this type of deal, which would secure the immediate release of all hostages.
“We clarified to the Prime Minister that an immediate exchange of everyone for everyone is a deal the families would consider and one that has broad support from all of Israel,” family representatives said in a statement. “Bring everyone home now.”
‘Serious implications’ for regional peace
In the wake of the ramped up Israeli operations in Gaza, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran have each warned of destabilization in regional security if Israel continues its ground operations.
Saudi Arabia “condemns and denounces any ground incursions” by Israeli forces into Gaza due to the impact on civilians, the country’s foreign ministry wrote in a Saturday statement.
Israeli military action “against (Saudi Arabia’s) brotherly Palestinian People” would have “serious implications on the stability of the area and the international and regional peace and security,” the statement said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi warned on Saturday that the Middle East “will become a ticking time bomb” and that the “expansion of the conflict” was not in the region’s interest.
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Sunday that Israel had “crossed the red lines” in Gaza, which “may force everyone to take action.”
“Washington asks us to not do anything, but they keep giving widespread support to Israel,” Raisi said in a post on X.
On Sunday, Qatar’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, said he had spoken to Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
Al Thani said he stressed the need for an “immediate ceasefire” and highlighted “the risk of a spill over of violence and the conflict cycle in the region, which would have dire consequences,” he said on X.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on the leaders of Arab nations to convene an emergency Arab League summit in response to Israel’s operation in Gaza, according to a speech delivered from Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Saturday.