Israeli airstrikes on scores of residential buildings has led Amnesty International to call for a war crimes probe, as the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens.
At least 58,000 people have been displaced by Israel’s ongoing offensive in Gaza, which has destroyed or badly damaged nearly 450 mainly civilian buildings, the UN said on Tuesday.
Nearly 47,000 displaced civilians have sought shelter in 58 UNRWA-run (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) schools in Gaza, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva, told Anadolu Agency.
Laerke said OCHA welcomed the Israeli authorities opening of Kerem Shalom crossing for essential humanitarian supplies.
“It is critical that Erez crossing is also opened for the entry and exit of critical humanitarian staff,” he said.
Faced with the devastation wrought upon Gaza, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “There will be a great need for reconstruction of the infrastructure that was destroyed in Gaza. The Palestinian people will need the help of the international community, the financial help of the international community. We will get involved in it as much as we can.”
While Israel has allowed dozens of UNRWA fuel trucks into Gaza, it continues to block delivery of “other essential humanitarian cargo,” Dujarric said.
“As far as the security situation allows, the UN along with our partners provide food and non-food items to displaced families, and immediate cash assistance to more than 56,000 people,” he added.
In a separate statement on the conflict, rights group Amnesty International said Israeli air strikes on residential buildings might amount to war crimes, which Israel denies.
“Israeli forces have displayed a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians by carrying out a number of airstrikes targeting residential buildings in some cases killing entire families – including children – and causing wanton destruction to civilian property in attacks that may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity,” Amnesty said in a statement.
A humanitarian crisis
Reports of Gazans desperate for necessities like food, clothes and baby products are increasing by the day.
Much of the infrastructure in Gaza including water, power and waste disposal, which was already in substandard condition, have now been effectively shut down.
Laerke said the main solid waste disposal site in Gaza has been temporarily closed because of the bombardment on May 15, and it is now accumulating in a sub-station in the city centre.
The North Gaza Seawater Desalination Plant is not in operation either. “This undermines access to drinking water for about 250,000 people. In total, an estimated 800,000 people are lacking regular access to safe water in Gaza,” the OCHA official said.
Gaza’s only power plant with the capacity to store fuel is running low and isn’t expected to last beyond another day. The plant normally receives its fuel through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which has been closed by Israeli authorities.
“Without further provision, fuel is due to run out in the coming days,” said Laerke on Sunday. “This will cause significant reduction in electricity supply, again impacting the availability of health, water and sanitation services.”
Added to this is a severe shortage of medical supplies, a risk of water-borne diseases and the spread of Covid-19 because of displaced people crowding into schools, said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organisation.
Harris said that 46 percent of the central drugs and a third of central medical supplies are at zero stock in Gaza – amounting to less than one month’s supply.
Covid-19 social distancing measures have also added to “serious access challenges” she said, while there have been 36 recorded incidents of obstruction to access for medical teams in the West bank.
Now in its second week, Israel’s bombardment has killed at least 213 Palestinians, including 61 children and 36 women, according to Gaza health authorities. Over 1,400 have been injured.
Ten Israelis have also been killed in rocket fire carried out by Hamas, the Palestinian group ruling Gaza.