GAZA CITY – Gaza is on its knees, the United Nations has declared, with babies’ bodies crammed into ice cream freezers in overflowing morgues as fighting leaves almost half of medics unable to get to work.
Palestinians say corpses are littering the streets as casualties litter the blood-stained emergency room floors of Gaza’s hospitals, a third of which have been damaged in the fighting.
Almost half a million people – 460,000 or a quarter of all Gazans – have been displaced with 270,000 crammed into 90 desperately crowded UN shelters, some of which have had no running water for two weeks.
The crisis escalated today after Israel attacked another UN school killing 10 people, many of whom were waiting in line for food handouts, in what the UN Secretary-General called ‘yet another gross violation of humanitarian law’. More rockets were also fired towards Israel, intercepted by its defences.
The UN has warned Gaza’s medical facilities are ‘on the verge of collapse’ after a third of its hospitals, 14 clinics and 29 ambulances were damaged.
Two-fifths of Gaza’s medics are unable to get to work because of the violence and treatment is thrown into chaos by anonymous false alarms of impending attacks. Many of those in shelters are reliant on bottled water as the total amount of British aid pledged to the crisis reaches £13million.
Sanitation facilities are badly damaged and Gaza City only receives two hours of electricity per day, the UN added. Some areas have no electricity at all and one shelter in Jabalia is holding 10,000 people.
Dr. Ambrogio Manenti, acting Head of Office of the UN World Health Organization, said: ‘The ability to provide necessary healthcare is being severely compromised. This puts the lives of thousands of Palestinians in needless danger’.
Robert Turner, Director of Operations in the Gaza Strip for the UN Relief and Works Agency, said: ‘Hundreds of thousands of people are sheltering in terrible conditions, pushing UNRWA’s coping capacity to the edge.’
Yet despite the crisis and renewed shelling today, Israel says it is scaling down parts of its operation.
It withdrew tanks yesterday and today as it ‘reassessed’ its armaments along the border.
‘We have indeed scaled down some of the presence and indeed urged Palestinians in certain neighborhoods to come back to their homes,’ said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.
In Rafah, which has seen some of the fiercest assaults, the leader of the Fatah political faction Ashraf Goma said Israeli forces were bombarding the town from air, ground and sea and locals were unable to deal with the wounded and the dead.
‘Bodies of the wounded are bleeding in the streets and other corpses are laid on the road with no one able to recover them,’ he said.
‘I saw a man on a donkey cart bringing seven bodies into the hospital. Bodies are being kept in ice-cream refrigerators, in flower and vegetable coolers.’
UN officials said an air-launched missile hit the gates of its school in Rafah, where 3,000 Palestinians were sheltering from a fresh wave of strikes, killing 10 people and injuring 35 inside and outside the compound at 10.50am local time.
Bodies lay on the ground in chaotic scenes as injured children and adults were rushed through the blood-spattered streets in the arms of residents.
The Associated Press news agency said many of those hit were waiting for food supplies outside. Israel’s military did not immediately comment.
Robert Serry, UN Middle East Special Coordinator, said: ‘It is simply intolerable that another school has come under fire while designated to provide shelter for civilians fleeing the hostilities’.
Israel’s government insists Gaza’s dominant Hamas faction bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties, accusing militants of hiding rockets deliberately in civilian areas, shelters and mosques, using residents in densely populated areas as ‘human shields’.