Hospitals are running short on fuel to keep backup generators running, as wounded bodies cram their corridors. Fearful residents are flooding U.N.-run schools seeking shelter from explosions. Satellite imagery of residential areas shows dozens of flattened buildings, and video has shown the devastation wrought by an airstrike on a refugee camp.
The effects of hundreds of Israeli strikes — retaliation for attacks by Hamas that killed more than 1,200 people — compounded with 16 years of blockade and now an Israeli siege have put the Gaza Strip, where an estimated two million Palestinians live in densely packed homes and poor conditions in an area about the size of Philadelphia, on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.
“We are facing a huge disaster,” said Adnan Abu Hasna, the media adviser for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees.
At least 1,417 Palestinians have been killed and 6,268 wounded since Saturday, according to the Gazan Health Ministry. It is unclear how many of those were civilians or members of Hamas, the group that rules the Gaza Strip and attacked more than 20 Israeli settlements over the weekend, opening fire on Israeli civilians in large groups and abducting scores of people.
United Nations leaders, like those around the world, have vocally condemned the violence by Hamas. But they have also warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians are now in the line of fire as Israel retaliates, focusing on a 140-square-mile territory that was already in crisis.
The situation in Gaza “was extremely dire before these hostilities,” the U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, said on Monday. “Now it will only deteriorate exponentially.”
On Thursday, at least 10 people were killed by an Israeli airstrike that hit the Shati refugee camp in Gaza, according to the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa. Unverified video from the aftermath of the strike showed a scene covered in gray ash and dust, the bodies and wounded nearly indistinguishable from the rubble around them.
The Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza said on Thursday that its health system had “begun to collapse.” Wounded Palestinians needing intensive care now have no beds that can hold them, the ministry said, and the number of injured exceeds the hospitals’ capacities, even after some were placed in hospital corridors.
Water and electricity has been cut off, Mr. Abu Hasna said. The only power plant in Gaza shut down on Wednesday because a longstanding blockade, enforced by Egypt and Israel, had stopped shipments of fuel. Israel’s defense minister had vowed a “complete siege” of Gaza in the aftermath of the Hamas attack, saying that food, water and fuel would be cut off from the territory.
“We have four, five days’ worth supply of fuel left” to keep aid operations going, Mr. Abu Hasna said. “The shelling is not stopping.”
Israeli officials have warned Palestinian civilians to leave the Gaza Strip, but getting out is extremely difficult under the blockade. The president of Egypt, which also borders Gaza, said this week that his country would not allow Palestinians to seek refuge there, and the Egyptian authorities have not indicated whether they will allow emergency aid shipments into the territory.
Fabrizio Carboni, a regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross, has called Israel’s siege “not acceptable” and called for a humanitarian corridor to allow aid and supplies into the territory. Josep Borrell Fontelles, the top E.U. diplomat, has declared that Israel has a right to defend itself, but also said that European aid to Palestinians would continue.
“Not all the Palestinian people are terrorists,” he said this week. “So a collective punishment against all Palestinians will be unfair and unproductive, will be against our interest and against the interest of the peace.”
Israel’s military has said its strikes in recent days are targeting Hamas; in the dense urban conditions of Gaza, places hit include residential or office areas. Many of the limestone villas and high-rise buildings surrounding Al Shifa Hospital, the strip’s largest medical complex, have been reduced to piles of rubble and concrete. The Israeli Army has asserted that the neighborhood is a financial hub for Hamas, making it a target of airstrikes.
The U.N. humanitarian office estimates that at least 338,934 people have been displaced from their homes following the recent airstrikes.
The director of Al Shifa Hospital, Dr. Muhammad Abu Salima, told The New York Times on Wednesday that the facility was operating well over its capacity of 500 beds and had enough fuel to power its generators for another four days. Outside the hospital’s morgue, bodies wrapped in white cloth line the sidewalk waiting to be identified or collected by loved ones.
Aaron Boxerman and Samar Abu Elouf contributed reporting.