Infections may kill more Palestinians than Israeli bombs

Doctors have neither time nor funds to help all the injured and sick in Gaza - EPA Photo, Mohammed Saber

Among children under the age of five, the number of cases of diarrhea increased a hundred times by the beginning of November. There is nowhere to help these children

If the wounded, sick and displaced Palestinians are not urgently helped, and until the health system in Gaza is rebuilt, infections could claim more lives than Israeli bombs, the World Health Organization has warned.

In Gaza, according to the local Ministry of Health, more than 7 people have died since the beginning of the war on October 14.800 until the day before yesterday. Due to the Israeli ground operation, almost all the inhabitants of the northern regions of Gaza moved to the southern ones. Most of the hospitals in the northern regions have been abandoned, and those in the southern regions are overcrowded and cannot even care for or treat all the patients. Those with chronic diseases are not treated at all.

The United Nations estimates that a total of 1,8 million Palestinians have fled their homes in the past seven weeks. Almost two-thirds of them, or about 1,1 million, have overwhelmed the 156 facilities of the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA).

- Checks in those institutions showed that diseases are already spreading among the children in care, mainly diarrhea and respiratory infections - said in Geneva the representative of the WHO, doctor Margaret Harris.

Among children under the age of five, the number of cases of diarrhea increased a hundred times by the beginning of November. There is nowhere to help these children. According to the UN, only five hospitals are partially operational in the northern part of Gaza, and eight are operational in the southern part out of a total of 11. Only one has the capacity to treat critical trauma cases and perform complex operations.

- It may happen that we see more victims from diseases than from the bombing, if we fail to restore the health system - warned Dr. Harris.

UNICEF Children's Fund representative James Elder said by phone from Gaza that he saw children with terrible injuries waiting for hours on the floor to be helped. Injured children are also lying in parking lots and yards next to hospitals.

Elder added that the children of the displaced families also suffer, because they do not have a healthy shelter and warm clothes to protect them from the wet and cold weather.

A ceasefire that began on Friday has allowed humanitarian aid to reach civilians, but it is not enough to meet the basic needs of two million people. In the first four days of the ceasefire, 800 trucks with humanitarian aid entered Gaza, even to the northern region, which is a war zone. Before the war, about 500 trucks of goods entered Gaza from Egypt every day.

Evacuation of premature babies from Al Shifa Hospital - EPA photo, Haitham Imad

The United Nations warns that in such a situation it would be foolish to continue the war, which is why they have called for the cease-fire to turn into a permanent truce.

The ceasefire has already been extended for two more days, but it should end this morning. Qatar, as the main mediator, is trying to persuade Hamas and Israel to accept at least one more extension of the ceasefire, so that the daily exchange of a dozen Hamas hostages for three times as many Palestinians from Israeli prisons can continue.
Last night, Qatar's Ministry of Foreign Affairs stressed that it was using the extension to secure a "sustainable truce, which would lead to negotiations and ultimately to the end of the war."

- We are working with what we have, which are the provisions that allow the ceasefire to last as long as Hamas is able to release at least ten hostages every day - said the representative of the Qatari Ministry, Majid al-Ansari.

The heads of the intelligence agencies of the United States and Israel - William Burns from the CIA and David Barnea from the Mossad - spoke with the Qatari prime minister yesterday in Doha about the "parameters of the new phase of the ceasefire" and about "further steps".

An anonymous Hamas source told the BBC that the number of hostages that could be released was limited because many were under the control of other militant groups in Gaza. Therefore, the Hamas leadership needs more time to obtain information about the hostages in order to arrange their release.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and generals of the defense forces, however, announced that they have not given up on the goal of continuing the military operation in Gaza, for months if necessary, until the total destruction of Hamas' facilities.

Encouragingly, the ceasefire has been largely observed for five days now, barring minor incidents, such as an attack on an Israeli military patrol in northern Gaza on Tuesday. Several soldiers were slightly injured. There have also been several cases of Israeli tanks opening warning fire to prevent groups of Palestinians from returning to the northern region, which is still a war zone.

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