Half of all buildings in the Gaza Strip are damaged and the Palestinian territory is “uninhabitable”, after four months of war led by Israel against the Islamist movement Hamas, the UN estimated on Wednesday.
It will take tens of billions of dollars to make the narrow strip of land livable again, underlines a report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
UNCTAD researchers established the extent of the damage by using high-resolution satellite images and comparing images before October 7 and after – once Israel began its relentless shelling of Gaza following the unprecedented operation carried out on that date by Hamas in Israeli territory.
The report itself was finalized at the end of November, just under two months into the conflict.
It estimates that by then, 37,379 buildings – the equivalent of 18% of the total structures in the Gaza Strip – had been damaged or destroyed by the military operation.
And since then, satellite data indicates that destruction has more than doubled, according to Rami Alazzeh, an UNCTAD economist specializing in assistance to the Palestinian people and co-author of the report.
“New data indicates that 50% of structures in Gaza are (damaged or) destroyed,” he told AFP.
“Gaza is currently uninhabitable,” he stressed.
The Israeli army launched new deadly strikes on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday and engaged in intense fighting with Palestinian Hamas, as international mediators worked to secure a new truce in this devastating war.
The population in the besieged Palestinian territory is “starving to death”, they are “being pushed to the brink”, denounced an official of the World Health Organization (WHO), Michael Ryan, almost four months after the start of the war which caused a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Faced with efforts for a new truce, the head of American diplomacy Antony Blinken will return “in the coming days” to the Middle East, said an American official without specifying which countries he would visit.
According to the Hamas Health Ministry on Wednesday, Israeli ground fighting and aerial bombardments left 150 people dead in 24 hours in the Gaza Strip.
The fighting is concentrated in Khan Younes, a large city in the south of the territory, largely destroyed and now the epicenter of the war triggered on October 7 by an unprecedented bloody attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement against Israel.
According to witnesses, artillery fire targeted the Nasser hospital in Khan Younes, where thousands of civilians are taking refuge. Staff at al-Amal hospital also reported fighting nearby.
“We left the Nasser hospital under bombs. We didn’t know where to go. We are in the cold, left to our own devices, without tents and without anything to survive,” testified a woman who fled to Rafah, about twenty kilometers further south.
According to the Israeli army, “dozens of terrorists” were killed during a raid in Khan Younes and “a workshop for manufacturing weapons, including rockets, anti-tank missiles and explosives” was destroyed. She further admitted to having started flooding the tunnels dug by Hamas underground in Gaza, one of the objectives of the war.
On October 7, Hamas commandos infiltrated from the neighboring Gaza Strip carried out an unprecedented attack on Israeli soil, which left 1,140 dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP count based on official figures.
In total, some 250 people were kidnapped and taken to Gaza, where Hamas took power in 2007. According to Israel, 132 hostages remain held there, of whom 29 are believed to have died.
In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas and launched a vast military operation which left 26,900 dead, the vast majority civilians, according to the Hamas Ministry of Health.
In order to obtain a new truce, the United States, Egypt and Qatar are working behind the scenes to try to convince the belligerents to cease hostilities. A previous one-week truce at the end of November allowed the release of 105 hostages in Gaza and 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Hamas leader Ismaïl Haniyeh, based in Qatar, is expected Wednesday or Thursday at the Egyptian mediator to discuss an initiative formulated during a meeting last weekend in Paris between CIA director William Burns, and Egyptian, Israeli and Qatari officials.
According to a source in Hamas, the Islamist movement is examining a proposal comprising three phases, the first of which notably mentions a six-week truce during which Israel will have to release between 200 to 300 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 35 to 40 hostages. 200 to 300 humanitarian aid trucks will also be able to enter Gaza every day.
In Washington, a source close to the matter said that American national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer were expected to meet on Wednesday.
“Spine of Aid”
For the moment Hamas is demanding a total ceasefire as a prerequisite to any agreement and Israel refuses any truce as long as the Islamist movement, which it considers a terrorist organization just like the United States and the European Union, does not will not be eliminated.
In the devastated territory, the bombings pushed 1.7 million of the approximately 2.4 million inhabitants to flee their homes according to the UN. Most have headed south and more than 1.3 million are now crowded into Rafah, trapped against the closed border with Egypt, according to the same source.
Adding to the population’s distress, the operations of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) are under threat after Israel accused 12 of the agency’s 30,000 regional employees of involvement in the attack from October 7.
Thirteen countries have suspended their funding to this agency which had announced that it had dismissed most of the employees concerned.
UN chief Antonio Guterres and his humanitarian affairs coordinator Martin Griffiths on Wednesday defended the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees as the “backbone” and “beating heart” of aid to Gaza.
“I met yesterday (Tuesday evening) with donors to listen to their concerns and to detail the steps taken to resolve them,” the secretary-general said during a regular meeting on the Palestinians, at UN headquarters in New York. York.
“I call on all Member States to guarantee the continuity of the work of UNRWA which saves lives,” further implored Antonio Guterres, who reacted last weekend to Israel’s accusations by promising an investigation.
The UN chief reiterated that “the entire humanitarian system in Gaza is collapsing”.
Before the Security Council, the head of United Nations Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, also stepped up to the plate.
“The entire humanitarian community – including UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent – is working together to ensure that aid reaches as many people in need as possible,” he said. Mr. Griffiths.
And “you will not be surprised to hear that the beating heart of this is UNRWA,” he insisted in front of the 15 members of the Security Council and representatives of Israel and Palestine.
The diplomat stressed that the “(UN) humanitarian response for the occupied Palestinian territory depended on a funded and operational UNRWA.”
“We would of course like to see the decisions to withdraw funds from UNRWA reversed,” Mr. Griffiths concluded.
The Israeli government on Tuesday accused the UN agency of being “fundamentally compromised”, by letting Hamas “use its infrastructure” to carry out its military activities and by “hiring terrorists”.