350 more martyred as Israel intensifies bombardment in Gaza
GAZA, Palestine (AFP) - Israel intensified bombardment in Gaza on Saturday after the United States blocked an extraordinary UN bid for a ceasefire in the war with Hamas that has triggered alerts of an "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation.
Aid workers say Gaza's humanitarian system is on the verge of collapse, as disease and starvation threaten.
Washington's veto was swiftly condemned by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, whose health ministry put the latest death toll in Gaza at 17,490, mostly women and children. It added that, over a 24-hour period, 350 martyrs and 160 wounded had arrived at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah after persistent bombings. Gunfire was heard and flashes of light that silhouetted palm trees were seen overnight in the city's Al-Zawaida district.
An Israeli strike on the southern city of Khan Yunis killed six people, while five others died in a separate attack in Rafah, the ministry said Saturday. The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's armed wing, said it fired rockets towards Reim in southern Israel, where Hamas gunmen killed 364 people, Israel says, at a music festival on October 7.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after its unprecedented attacks of that day, when militants broke through Gaza's militarised border to kill about 1,200 people and seize hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, according to Israel.
Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to rubble and the UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, with dire shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine reported.
At Nasser hospital in the central city of Khan Yunis, an AFP correspondent saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others simply sitting on the floor waiting to receive care. Outside, firefighters poured water onto the flames of a burning building partly destroyed by an Israeli strike.
'Into the abyss'
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres triggered the rare Security Council vote by invoking a measure unused in decades. He sought the council's endorsement of a ceasefire because, he said, rapidly deteriorating conditions make it "impossible for meaningful humanitarian operations", with potentially irreversible implications for regional peace and security.
One of only two partially operating hospitals in Gaza's north, Al-Awda, "is surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, and fighting is ongoing in its vicinity", the UN said. Nearby in Jabalia district, the soil in front of shuttered shops has been dug up and turned into a cemetery where men buried more bodies.
Aid groups emphasised the worsening conditions in Gaza, where people sleep in the streets, and essentials like diapers are unavailable.
Alexandra Saieh, of Save the Children, spoke of "maggots being picked from wounds and children undergoing amputations without anaesthetic."
The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic," said Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam. US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated Washington's calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians. "And we're going to keep working with our Israeli counterparts to that end," he said.