There were also pitched battles in the Jabalya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip, where local authorities say an estimated 100,000 people are at risk of starvation after two months of war. Levy said that in Jabalya and Shejaiya areas, Israeli forces had “broken through their defensive lines and those terrorists are now emerging from their underground tunnels to engage our men in close combat.”
There were also continued airstrikes across the Gaza Strip, including two in the southern border town of Rafah, a vital transshipment point for the faltering international aid effort where tens of thousands of people have sought refuge in recent days from the spreading fighting farther north. A Wednesday strike on the Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah killed or injured more than two dozen people, witnesses and a local journalist told The Washington Post. The IDF said it was “checking” reports of the strike.
U.N. Secretary General António Guterres warned Wednesday evening that Gaza’s entire humanitarian system is on the brink of collapse, putting 2.2 million people at risk of dying from hunger and epidemic disease.
“We are simply unable to reach those in need inside Gaza,” he said, appealing to the international community to take “urgent” steps to stop the fighting.
He invoked for the first time in his tenure Article 99 of the U.N. Charter, which will force the Security Council to meet to discuss a course of action.
His appeal comes as conditions rapidly deteriorate for Gaza’s residents, over 85 percent of whom have been displaced from their homes and are cramped, sleeping in rough conditions, often in the open air, and without access to enough food, clean water or shelter from the winter cold.
Doctors have warned about the risk of disease spreading in overcrowded shelters and refugee camps in Gaza’s south, where the population has swelled amid intensified fighting and Israeli warnings to evacuate.
“Through our inspection of refugee camps, we noticed a large spread of hepatitis, which is spreading due to crowding of people, lack of usable drinking water and contaminated food,” Imad Al-Hams, an emergency physician in Rafah, told The Post. “This is a serious disease that leads to death.”
He said it was hard to issue official figures on the volume of infections, due to the large number of people and a lack of access for medical teams, but noted that many diseases were spreading because of poor hygiene conditions, and children were particularly at risk.
Saif Al-Din Muhammad Qadouha, 45, told The Post his home in northern Gaza was destroyed at the outset of the war, forcing him to flee to Rafah where he now lives in a makeshift school shelter with his family. “We receive water only once, for an hour, every three or four days … I live with my family of 11 people in this tent,” he said.
He added that his son “was infected with hepatitis C, which is a contagious and dangerous disease.”