Israel-Hamas war, day 137: catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, new impasse in sight at the UN

Deadly Israeli strikes targeted the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, February 20, where the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic, particularly in the town of Rafah, threatened with a ground offensive by Israel, at a time when a new impasse is looming in the Security Council

Israel-Hamas war, day 137: catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, new impasse in sight at the UN

Deadly Israeli strikes targeted the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, February 20, where the humanitarian situation remains catastrophic, particularly in the town of Rafah, threatened with a ground offensive by Israel, at a time when a new impasse is looming in the Security Council. UN security regarding a possible ceasefire. Strikes notably targeted Khan Younes, a few kilometers north of Rafah, according to a journalist from Agence France-Presse, where Israeli soldiers are tracking down Hamas fighters in the middle of the ruins.

Nearly a million and a half people, according to the UN, are massed in Rafah, located in the south of the Palestinian territory against the closed border with Egypt, whose population has increased sixfold since the start of the war , on October 7, between Israel and Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an upcoming offensive on the overpopulated city, targeted daily by Israeli strikes, in order to defeat the Palestinian Islamist movement in its “last bastion” and free the hostages held in Gaza. “The world must prevent the invasion of Rafah. Rafah has become an explosive reservoir and its invasion would mean thousands of deaths,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, the Hamas health ministry announced that bombings on Gaza had killed 103 people in twenty-four hours, and 29,195 since October 7. And, according to a report from Agence France-Presse based on official Israeli figures, the war left around 1,160 dead in Israel.

After being denied access twice, World Health Organization (WHO) staff were able to complete two missions on Sunday February 18 and Monday: transfer 32 critically ill patients – including two children – out of the besieged hospital Nasser from Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip, to other establishments and field hospitals in this territory. They also brought a small stock of essential medicines and food to patients and staff.

In its press release, the WHO expressed concern on Tuesday for the other patients and staff still in the Nasser hospital. Some 130 patients, injured or sick, are still believed to be there with at least 15 doctors and nurses. Israeli soldiers entered it on Thursday, based on intelligence that people were being held hostage there, the Israeli army said.

“The dismantling and deterioration of the Nasser medical complex constitutes a major blow to the health system [in the Gaza Strip],” the WHO added, stressing that “there is no electricity or running water and the medical waste and garbage create a breeding ground for disease.”

The WHO described the conditions there as “indescribable”. The intensive care unit is no longer functioning, and WHO staff have transferred the only remaining patient in intensive care to another part of the complex. In its statement, “WHO fears for the safety and well-being of patients and health workers still in hospital and warns that further interruption of life-saving care for the sick and injured would lead to more deaths.” .

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss a new truce in Gaza. The head of the Hamas political bureau, based in Qatar, “will discuss with Egyptian officials the political situation and on the ground,” Hamas said in a statement. The delegation will also discuss “efforts aimed at ending the aggression, providing relief to citizens and achieving the goals of the Palestinian people,” according to the statement.

Despite a flurry of meetings with Israeli and Hamas negotiators last week, Egyptian, Qatari and American mediators have made no progress in their efforts to end more than four months of war.

Reports from humanitarian organizations are increasingly alarming about the situation in the Gaza Strip, devastated and besieged by Israel, where 2.2 million people are threatened with famine, according to the UN. Food and clean water have become “extremely scarce” in Gaza, according to UN agencies, which are concerned about a significant and imminent rise in the number of child deaths.

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) on Tuesday once again suspended the distribution of its aid in the north of the territory, plagued by “chaos and violence”. On Sunday, a convoy heading to Gaza City “was surrounded by a crowd of hungry people.” WFP staff managed to repel attackers attempting to board trucks before “coming under fire” in Gaza. And on Monday, several trucks “were looted” between the towns of Khan Younes and Deir Al-Balah, and a driver was molested.

Humanitarian aid, still insufficient, enters the Gaza Strip mainly through Rafah via Egypt, but its delivery to the north is made almost impossible by the fighting and destruction.

Despite international pressure to tone down its support for Israel, the United States on Tuesday (February 20) again prevented the UN Security Council from demanding an “immediate” ceasefire in Gaza, circulating a alternative text on a possible truce under conditions.

The draft resolution, which demanded “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire that must be respected by all parties,” received thirteen votes in favor, one abstention (UK) and one against, the third US veto since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas. The text opposes the “forced displacement of the Palestinian civilian population” while Israel has mentioned an evacuation of civilians before an offensive in Rafah.

The United States, Israel's ally, vetoed this text, believing that it would endanger the delicate diplomatic negotiations for a truce. They presented another project that talks about a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as it is feasible” and based on a “formula” including the release of all hostages. This project also warns that “a large-scale ground offensive” on Rafah “should not take place under current conditions.”

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN called the veto “irresponsible and dangerous” on the part of the United States. “The message sent today to Israel by this veto is that they can continue to do anything with impunity,” said Riyad Mansour, denouncing the “shield” provided by the Americans to Israel. “The American position is a green light for the [Israeli] occupation to commit more massacres (…). This will only increase the suffering of our people,” the Hamas movement said in a statement.