More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israel-Hamas war, Gaza health officials say


RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The war in Gaza has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, health officials in the Hamas-run territory said Friday, a new reflection of the staggering cost of Israel’s military offensive as pressure grows to scale it back.

The figure, amounting to nearly 1% of the territory’s prewar population, is just one measure of the devastation wrought by the conflict that over 11 weeks has displaced nearly 85% of Gaza’s people and leveled wide swaths of the tiny coastal enclave.

More than half a million people in Gaza — a quarter of the population — are starving, according to a report Thursday by the United Nations and other agencies highlighting the crisis caused by Israel’s bombardment and siege on the territory in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.

Despite the urgency to address the crisis, a U.N. Security Council vote on aid deliveries and terms for a cease-fire was delayed again late Thursday, after days of high-level negotiations.

The United States, which has veto power, has pushed back against calls for an immediate cease-fire and giving the U.N. sole responsibility for inspecting aid deliveries. Israel, citing security grounds, insists it needs to be able to screen goods entering Gaza.

The U.S. said it would back a revised resolution that calls for “creating the conditions” for a cease-fire, rather than an immediate end to fighting. Other countries support a stronger text and said they would need to consult their capitals before a vote, which is now expected later Friday.

Martin Griffiths, the U.N. humanitarian affairs chief, lamented the world’s inaction.

“That such a brutal conflict has been allowed to continue and for this long — despite the widespread condemnation, the physical and mental toll and the massive destruction — is an indelible stain on our collective conscience,” he wrote in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Despite calls for a cease-fire, Israel has said it would press on until Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza for 16 years, has been destroyed.

The military has said that months of fighting lie ahead in southern Gaza, an area packed with the vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, many of whom were ordered to flee combat in the northern half of the territory in earlier stages of the war.

Since then, evacuation orders have pushed displaced civilians into ever-smaller areas of the south as troops focused on the city of Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest. The military said late Thursday that it is sending more ground forces, including combat engineers, to Khan Younis to target Hamas militants above ground and in tunnels.

The air and ground campaign also continued in the north, even as Israel says it is in the final stages of clearing out Hamas militants from there.

Mustafa Abu Taha, a Palestinian farm worker, said ground battles and airstrikes have continued in his hard-hit Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, adding that many areas have become inaccessible because of massive destruction from airstrikes.

“They are hitting anything moving,” he said of Israeli forces.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said Friday that it has documented 20,057 deaths in the fighting. It does not differentiate between combatant and civilian deaths. It previously said that roughly two-thirds of the dead were women or minors. It said 53,320 Palestinians have been wounded.

Israel has carried out thousands of airstrikes as well as a fierce ground offensive in what it says is a campaign to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities. It blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, citing the group’s use of crowded residential areas for military purposes.

Israel declared war after Hamas militants stormed across its border on Oct. 7 and killed some 1,200 people and kidnapped 240 others.

Israel’s military says 137 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. It says it has killed thousands of Hamas militants, including about 2,000 in the past three weeks, but it has not presented any evidence to back up the claim.

Meanwhile, phone and internet services were gradually being restored late Thursday, after the latest fighting-related communications blackout of 35 hours.

“Networks have become increasingly unreliable through recent days, with overall levels remaining far below pre-conflict levels,” said the internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.

Repeated cuts in communications have also hampered aid deliveries at a time of unprecedented humanitarian needs in Gaza.

The extent of the population’s hunger eclipsed even the near-famines of recent years in Afghanistan and Yemen, according to Thursday’s report by the U.N. and other agencies. The report warned that the risk of famine is “increasing each day,” blaming the hunger on insufficient aid entering Gaza.

“It doesn’t get any worse,’’ said Arif Husain, chief economist for the U.N.’s World Food Program. “I have never seen something at the scale that is happening in Gaza. And at this speed.”

The war has also pushed Gaza’s health sector into collapse.

Only nine of its 36 health facilities are still partially functioning, all located in the south, according to the World Health Organization.

The agency reported soaring rates of infectious diseases in Gaza, including a five-fold increase in diarrhea, particularly among young children, compared to pre-war figures. It said there’s been a rise in upper respiratory infections, meningitis, skin rashes, scabies, lice and chickenpox.

“With the health system on its knees, those facing the deadly combination of hunger and disease are left with few options,” it said.

WHO relief workers reported “unbearable” scenes Thursday in two hospitals they visited in northern Gaza: Bedridden patients with untreated wounds cry out for water, the few remaining doctors and nurses have no supplies, and bodies are lined up in the courtyard.

Israeli forces have raided a series of health facilities in the north in recent weeks, detaining men for interrogation and expelling others.

On Thursday, troops stormed the Palestinian Red Crescent’s ambulance center in the Jabaliya refugee camp, taking away paramedics and ambulance crews, the group said. On Friday, the Red Crescent said the military released some of the paramedics, including women, but eight remained in detention with their whereabouts not known.


Magdy reported from Cairo.

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