A week of relentless Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip has destroyed power lines, smashed water pipes beneath roads and left human waste spilling out of the ground.
With 188 Palestinians having been killed, and families trapped under rubble, fears are mounting of a deepening humanitarian crisis in the enclave, where 2 million people live under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade in place for 14 years.
Six of Gaza’s 10 electricity lines are down and supply has been more than halved, according to Mohammed Thabet, a spokesperson for the Gaza Electricity Distribution Company. “There are some border areas completely cut off from electricity,” he said. Repair crews were unable to fix the lines due to continued attacks.
Throughout its intense bombing campaign, Israel has blocked access to the territory, including for aid workers, and prevented fuel from entering, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
Supplies of vital animal feed sitting in trucks are being held on the Israeli side of the frontier waiting to go in, OCHA said, adding that Gaza’s stockpiles would run out on Sunday.
It said the Palestinian ministry of agriculture had warned that without deliveries, livestock and poultry farms would run out.
In turn, the strip’s main protein source would be affected. Israel has also prevented fishers from sailing off the Gaza coast and has bombed farms, OCHA said.
A seawater desalination plant is out of action, leaving 250,000 people without proper supplies of drinking water. In the northern town of Beit Lahia, “sewage and solid waste are accumulating in the streets”, OCHA said.
Mahmoud Awad, 47, a resident in Beit Lahia, said his family had been living for “almost three days without virtually any electricity. Houses near our house were bombed, and the electricity went out after the bombing as a result of the cables being cut off.” Usually, Awad uses an external generator, but those lines were also destroyed, he said.
The municipality in Gaza City said Israeli forces had hit “main junctions in the city, exacerbating the humanitarian situation and making it difficult for ambulance and emergency crews to move.” With burst pipes, it was hard to move water trucks.
Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the strip, has stationed its militants in and fired rockets from civilian areas. In the latest bout of fighting, Israel says hundreds of militant-fired rockets have fallen short, and it has shared aerial footage of a misfire.
An official with Israel’s Civil Administration, the body tasked with running the occupation, said Hamas militants had “shot” power lines in the strip and said 230,000 residents were cut off from electricity.
The UN humanitarian coordinator Lynn Hastings appealed to “the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups [to] immediately allow the United Nations and our humanitarian partners to bring in fuel, food, and medical supplies.” On Sunday there were unconfirmed reports that Egypt, which controls a southern frontier with Gaza, had opened its border.
According to the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, more than 17,000 people have fled their homes and are sheltering in roughly 40 schools. The agency warned of a secondary threat during the Covid pandemic, saying it had to consider “how to minimise the risk of people crowding in a very confined space and spreading the virus”.
Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said the decreasing supply of electricity had affected the production of oxygen needed for respirators. Israel, which has vaccinated most of its citizens, has said it is not responsible for giving inoculations to all Palestinians in the occupied territories, including the West Bank and Gaza.
Oxfam, which supplies water and sanitation in Gaza, said this week’s hostilities would drive “further human rights violations, poverty and suffering, particularly for a lost generation of children and young Palestinians.”
Laila Barhoum, the charity’s policy adviser in Gaza, said: “Day after day we watch the bombs fall on homes where our friends and family live and buildings where our colleagues work, wondering if we will be next. And day after day we wait in vain for the unequivocal condemnation from the international community that never comes.”
“When a ceasefire is eventually declared, we will once again dig out from the rubble and begin to rebuild, only to wait for another cycle of bombardment to destroy what we have done,” she added.