UN warns Gaza ‘uninhabitable’ as war rages on

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES – Israel bombed southern Gaza early Saturday as the UN warned the besieged Palestinian territory has been rendered “uninhabitable” by three months of war.

The fighting, triggered by the October 7 attacks on southern Israel by Hamas militants, has sent tensions soaring across the region, and shows no signs of abating as the conflict slides into its fourth month on Sunday.

Civilians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip have born the brunt of the violence amid widespread displacement, destruction and a deepening humanitarian crisis.

With much of the territory already reduced to rubble, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Friday that “Gaza has simply become uninhabitable”.

AFP correspondents reported Israeli strikes early Saturday on the southern city of Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of people have sought shelter from the fighting.

On Israel’s northern border, Lebanon’s Hezbollah group said it launched on Saturday its “initial response” to the killing of Hamas’s deputy chief in Beirut, which a US defence official has told AFP was carried out by Israel.

The Iran-backed group said it had targeted the Israeli military’s Meron air control base with 62 missiles, while the Israeli army reported “approximately 40 launches from Lebanon” early Saturday, with sirens blaring in the Galilee region.

The Hamas-allied Lebanese movement has been trading near-daily fire with Israeli forces since early October and said the barrage was a response to Tuesday’s killing of Saleh al-Aruri in a strike on a Hezbollah stronghold in the Lebanese capital.

The army said it had responded with a strike on a Hezbollah “cell that took part in the launches”.

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said late Friday that Israeli forces were maintaining a “very high state of readiness” along the border with Lebanon following Aruri’s killing, which Israel has not claimed.

In Gaza, Hagari said, the army continues “to fight … in the north, centre and south”.

Palestinian man Abu Mohammed, 60, who fled to Rafah from the central Bureij refugee camp, told AFP that as the war nears its fourth month, Gaza’s future appeared “dark and gloomy and very difficult”.

Hospital ‘overcrowded with displaced’

The war began with an unprecedented Hamas attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

The militants also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom remain in captivity, according to Israel, including at least 24 believed to have been killed.

In response, Israel has launched a relentless bombardment and ground invasion that have killed at least 22,600 people, most of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society on Friday reported shelling and drone fire in the area around Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis.

It said seven displaced people, including a five-day-old baby, had been killed while sheltering in the compound.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says the majority of the Palestinian territory’s 36 hospitals have been put out of action by the fighting, while remaining medical facilities face dire shortages.

In central Gaza, a spokesman for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital said: “We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe due to the spread of epidemics, with the hospital overcrowded with displaced people.”

A UN team on Friday delivered medical supplies to Gaza authorities in Khan Yunis, and WHO coordinator Sean Casey said it was “the first time we’ve been able to make this delivery in about 10 days.”

“Hospitals have been running short on some supplies,” he said, adding that medical facilities were “working at two or three times their normal capacity.”

The Israeli military on Saturday said its ground and air forces had “killed numerous terrorists … and destroyed a number of tunnel shaft” in Khan Yunis over the past 24 hours.

Israel says Hamas militants hide in a vast underground network as well as among civilians in schools and hospitals.

The army said that during “a targeted raid” in Gaza City, now a largely devastated urban combat zone, troops had found military vests “concealed… in a medical clinic”.

Diplomatic push

Top Western diplomats were in the region as part of a fresh push to raise the flow of aid into Gaza and calm rising tensions.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Turkey on Saturday, where he was due to discuss the Gaza war with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Blinken will also visit several Arab states before heading to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week.

During his visit, Blinken plans to discuss with Israeli leaders “immediate measures to increase substantially humanitarian assistance to Gaza”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell was meeting Lebanese leaders on Saturday in Beirut for talks on “all aspects of the situation in and around Gaza”.

Germany’s top diplomat, Annalena Baerbock, was also due to travel to the region on Sunday, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, meanwhile, slammed remarks by two far-right Israeli ministers seeking to resettle Gazans outside the territory.

“It’s not up to Israel to determine the future of Gaza, which is Palestinian land,” Colonna told CNN on Friday. – AFP