Smoke from a bombardment billows in the background as displaced Palestinians flee from Khan Younis in southern Gaza on January 30, 2024.
CNN  — 

More than 30,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel’s war with Hamas began in October, the health ministry in the besieged enclave said Thursday, a bleak milestone that comes amid growing international pressure on Israel to halt fighting and fears of further bloodshed in the southern city of Rafah.

The towering figure underscores a horrific, months-long ordeal for Palestinians inside the strip, during which Israel’s bombing and ground campaigns have displaced the vast majority of the population and created a dire humanitarian crisis.

In all, 30,035 people have been killed so far, the ministry said Thursday, adding that the number of injured is over 70,000.

Israel is facing mounting pressure globally to halt the conflict, but its campaign in Gaza has retained the support of the United States, its key ally and largest supplier of military aid. The US proposed a “temporary ceasefire” at the United Nations earlier this month, but has vetoed calls for an immediate halt in the conflict.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said Thursday “there appears to be no bounds, no words, to capture the horrors that are unfolding before our eyes in Gaza.”

What is happening in Gaza is “carnage” Turk said, speaking at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. “It is time – well past time – for peace, investigation and accountability,” Turk said.

The latest milestone preludes fears of more suffering in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city where more than 1 million people are crammed, and where Israel is expected to launch a fresh offensive.

Gaza’s health ministry does not distinguish between civilians and fighters but has said in recent updates that around 70% of the casualties are women and children.

Gaza's health ministry said that, in addition to 30,035 deaths, more than 70,000 people have been injured since October 7.

Israel estimates about 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed since October 7, when Israel declared war on the militant group. More than 1,200 people in Israel were killed during Hamas’ attacks on that day, and more than 250 were kidnapped and taken hostage in Gaza.

CNN cannot independently verify the casualty tolls in Gaza or the Israeli estimates of Hamas fighters killed.

On Thursday, soon after the latest death toll figures were published, at least 53 people died and 120 were injured in Israeli gunfire in Gaza City as they were waiting for food, according to several eyewitnesses and the spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent, Ahmad Abu Al Foul.

Hungry civilians had swarmed around newly arrived aid trucks in the hope to get food, when Israeli tanks and drones started shooting at the people in Haroun Al Rasheed Street in western Gaza City, in the Sheikh Ajleen area.

The aid trucks tried to escape the area, accidentally ramming others and causing further deaths and injuries, the eyewitnesses added to CNN. Responding to CNN, the IDF said “the incident is under review”.

“Early this morning, during the entry of humanitarian aid trucks into the northern Gaza Strip, Gazan residents surrounded the trucks, and looted the supplies being delivered. During the incident, dozens of Gazans were injured as a result of pushing and trampling,” the IDF told CNN.

Nearly five months on from Hamas’ October 7 attack, Israel has said that more than 100 hostages remain in captivity. Its political and military leaders have pledged to press ahead with their objectives to return those hostages and “destroy” Hamas, despite international pressure to reduce the intensity of their campaign.

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz on February 17 warned that Israeli forces will expand military operations in Rafah if hostages are not returned by Ramadan, which is expected to begin on March 10 or 11.

“The world must know, and Hamas leaders must know – if by Ramadan our hostages are not home – the fighting will continue to the Rafah area,” Gantz said at a gathering of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem.

Fears that worst is still to come

Israel’s Western allies have grown increasingly concerned over the nature of its bombing and ground campaigns in Gaza, with even its most important partner, the United States, raising with increased regularity the plight of the millions of Palestinians caught in the path of its offensive.

President Joe Biden remarked earlier this month that the Israel Defense Forces’ conduct has been “over the top,” his most direct rebuke to date.

Biden subsequently told Netanyahu that the military action in Rafah “should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the civilians,” according to a readout of a phone call between the two leaders, and the US later proposed a UN resolution on a “temporary ceasefire,” though it has not supported calls by other countries for a ceasefire to be immediately implemented.

As well as displacing the majority of Gaza’s 2.2 million people, the war has drastically diminished supplies of water, electricity and food, and cut off access to vital life-saving care. The hospitals in the enclave have become battlegrounds, with dozens of facilities no longer functional.

There are fears of further bloodshed in Rafah, where the IDF is expected to launch an offensive.

The UN Humanitarian Affairs Coordination Office, OCHA, said on Tuesday that at least 576,000 people across Gaza are “facing catastrophic levels of deprivation and starvation” and are “one step away from famine.”

Almost the entire population of 2.2 million people require food aid, according to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which added one in six children under the age of two is acutely malnourished.

“Gaza is seeing the worst level of child malnutrition anywhere in the world,” Carl Skau, WFP Deputy Executive Director, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

A sprawling tent city has meanwhile been formed around Rafah, as more and more displaced Palestinians make the trek to the city – the last place to which they can flee north of the shuttered border with Egypt.

In recent weeks, hopes for a ceasefire-for-hostages deal have repeatedly risen and then fallen, as high-stakes diplomatic efforts to secure a pause in the fighting continue.

On Monday, CNN reported Hamas had backed off some key demands in the negotiations for a hostage deal and pause in the fighting in Gaza following Israeli accusations that its position was “delusional,” according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

Biden said that he hopes there’ll be a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict by “next Monday,” saying that a deal was “close” but “not done yet.”

However, officials from Israel, Hamas and Qatar have cautioned against Biden’s optimism, suggesting that differences remain as negotiators work to secure an agreement.

CNN’s Lauren Izso, Mohammed Tawfeeq, Catherine Nicholls, Pauline Lockwood, Alex Marquardt, Jeremy Diamond and journalist Khader Al Za’anoun contributed reporting.