Gaza humanitarian crisis worsens as Israel continues attack on Rafah

Famine looms, says Gaza health ministry

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has deepened since Israel launched its May 6th offensive against the southern province of Rafah. Sunday’s Israeli air strikes on a camp for displaced Palestinians in northwestern Rafah has generated global outrage and strained already overstretched medical facilities in southern and central Gaza.

Following the attack Gaza’s health ministry reported 45 fatalities and said 249 people were wounded. The injured were rushed to Tal Al-Sultan clinic and Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières field hospitals near the coast.

Because the Kuwait hospital – the only operational hospital left in Rafah – had closed after Israeli strikes caused the deaths of two staff members, critically wounded people were transferred to Al-Aqsa hospital near Deir Al-Balah, six kilometres to the north.

The hospital’s anaesthesiologist, Ezzedine Chahine, told Beirut’s L’Orient-Le Jour daily that most of those wounded in the Rafah incident were in severe condition, with burns on 50 per cent of their bodies. He said most will die because Gaza’s only specialised burn unit is not operational at the partially functioning Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza city. “The health system has almost collapsed,” said Chahine.

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Before Israel’s offensive closed the Rafah border crossing, urgent cases were evacuated to Egypt and supplies entered Gaza with foreign medical teams. “Now no one can get in or out,” said Chahine. “The situation is catastrophic.”

According to the UN, 16 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functioning.

Unrwa, the United Nations agency that cares for Palestinian refugees, said more than one million of the 1.4 million Palestinians sheltering in Rafah have fled to Israeli-designated overcrowded safe zones where there is no shelter and a shortage of water, food and medical care. Agencies that had organised delivery and distribution of aid have had to reorganise and reroute operations to avoid the shifting battleground.

Since the main Rafah-Egypt aid crossing closed, just 906 truckloads of humanitarian aid have entered the Gaza Strip, according to the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs (Ocha). The Norwegian Refugee Council told the BBC that 2,000 aid trucks were stuck on the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing. According to Reuters news agency, food has spoiled in the heat.

The UN says at least 500 trucks a day of aid and commercial goods need to enter Gaza.

Alternative crossings cannot replace Rafah. Although 123 lorries carrying food and fuel were allowed to enter through Israel’s Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday, Ocha chief Martin Griffiths said on X that the UN has been unable collect the aid “due to impediments and active fighting”.

The $320 million US-built floating pier, operating since May 17th, has landed just 137 aid trucks. During a storm, four of its barges broke loose from the pier and landed on the beach near the Israeli city of Ashdod. On Tuesday, part of the pier broke off, rendering it temporarily inoperable, according to Reuters, citing US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. They did not say how long it would take for the pier to resume operations.

In the north, only 214 trucks were allowed through the Erez west crossing last week: 109 carried flour and six medicine.

The Gaza health ministry has warned that famine is looming. On May 4th, World Food Programme director Cindy McCain said northern Gaza is in “full-blown famine” and warned that famine is “moving its way south”.

Between May 23rd-27th, 250 Palestinians were killed and 829 injured, bringing the total since October to 36,050 fatalities and 81,000 injured, the UN reported, citing Gaza health ministry figures.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times