Israel fires on MSF building in Rafah, killing two
The bombardment of Gaza has continued for the139th day and the Palestinian death toll is steadily increasing. Nowhere is safe for civilians in the besieged enclave as the Israeli military is attacking the area with wild abandon.
Overnight on Wednesday, stretching into the early hours of Thursday morning, an intense bombing campaign took place across Gaza’s southernmost city, Rafah, reported Hani Mahmoud from Gaza for Al Jazeera.
“Overnight, we’re looking at attacks in the eastern part, the northern part, and even the western part where literally hundreds of thousands of people have been sheltering,” Mahmoud said, describing the sounds of systematic home demolitions in the north.
“This is absolutely terrifying in a densely populated area. Right now, Rafah has been a center for Israeli attacks,” Al Jazeera correspondent Tareq Abu Azzoum added.
The Israeli military has also continued its attacks on Gaza City, where the military demanded all residents of the Zeitoun and Turkmen neighborhoods urgently move to al-Mawasi area in Rafah’s outskirts in the south of the Gaza Strip. To do so, they would have to travel more than 30km through ongoing attacks and bombed roads of the war zone.
Avichay Adraee, a spokesman for the Israeli army, told the Palestinians on X that the evacuation order comes “for your safety”, despite there being no safe place in the war-torn and besieged enclave.
Israeli attacks on the supposed ‘safe areas’ have continued. On Wednesday, a shelter run by Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) in al-Masawi was targeted by Israeli forces.
According to the statement, an Israeli tank fired on the building, sheltering 64 MSF employees and family members, killing the wife and daughter-in-law of an MSF worker. Nearby shelling prevented an ambulance from reaching the facility to assist the wounded for more than two hours.
Israeli forces had been “clearly informed of the precise location of this MSF shelter in al-Mawasi” and that the building was additionally identified with a large MSF flag, the organization added.
“These killings underscore the grim reality that nowhere in Gaza is safe, that promises of safe areas are empty and deconfliction mechanisms unreliable,” said MSF general director Meinie Nicolai. “The amount of force being used in densely populated urban environments is staggering, and targeting a building knowing it is full of humanitarian workers and their families is unconscionable.”
Just a few hours after the evacuation order in Gaza City, Israeli forces killed journalist Ihab Nasrallah and his wife in Zeitoun. Their three children were also badly burned, reported Wafa, citing medical sources.
In Nuseirat, in central Gaza, air strikes on the home of the al-Daalis family killed 17 people and wounded dozens of others, who were taken to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in neighboring Deir el-Balah, Wafa added.
Families across the Gaza Strip have continued to shelter in the ruins of schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) because they have nowhere else to go, the UN agency says in a post on X.
“Entire neighborhoods are gone without a trace. Military operations relentlessly continue. No place is safe.”
Hospitals are ‘a place of death’
Civilians across the besieged enclave areas are still unable to receive proper healthcare amid Israel’s ruthless offensive, which Palestinains say has turned hospitals into morgues.
In Khan Younis, the situation is especially difficult as the two leading hospitals, al Amal and Nasser, remain under military siege and many critically ill patients have been trapped inside the hospitals for weeks.
During an evacuation mission to Nasser Hospital, Jonathan Whittal, a senior humanitarian affairs officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), described “appalling” conditions, which have transformed “a place of healing” to “a place of death.”
“There are 150 patients in one of these buildings. They have no food and water, no electricity. There’s very few doctors and nurses that are remaining inside this hospital. The conditions are appalling,” Whittall said in a video on X.
“There are dead bodies in the corridors. Patients are in a desperate situation. This has become a place of death, not a place of healing.”
“This is a preventable tragedy that should not have happened.”
Medical workers have said they do not want to be evacuated but instead have called for the protection of medical facilities and for critical functions of the hospital to be restored so they can continue treating patients there.
“The last week has been miserable; it’s been a nightmare [for workers in the hospital under Israeli siege]. The things they’re seeing are traumatizing, and they’re asking for some sort of help. They’re asking, actually, not to be evacuated from the hospital but for the hospital to function. For the lights to be turned back on, for the medicine they need to treat the 150 patients that remain,” Dr. Thaer Ahmad, a US-based emergency physician who spent several weeks volunteering at Nasser Hospital in January, told Al Jazeera.
“I spoke to one of the last surgeons remaining there, who sent a message to a group of physicians here in the [United] States, and he asked us to advocate for the patients who are there. He told us, ‘I’m staring at patients, and they need my help, they need my care, and there’s nothing that I can do.’”
Similarly, the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) is warning of the dire situation at al-Amal Hospital “due to the ongoing siege and targeting by the Israeli occupation for the 30th consecutive day”.
The PRCS is, once again, calling on the international community to take immediate action to protect the hospital and “to lift the imposed siege before it is too late and the hospital is forced out of service.”
‘Gazans on the brink of death’
Israel’s ongoing blockade is still starving Palestinians across the Gaza Strip.
Israel is bringing over 2 million people in Gaza to the brink of death, especially the 400,000 living in the northern area of the besieged enclave, according to the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“Israel’s prevention of aid trucks from entering and its occasional targeting of the few allowed in is already resulting in the death of children, elderly, and patients due to hunger,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The sight of thousands of children holding empty pots and standing in long lines waiting for any meal or food rations dominates life in northern Gaza.”
Ismail al-Thawabteh, the head of Gaza’s government media office, says that residents of the northern Gaza Strip have been eating animal feed for three consecutive weeks, reported Al Jazeera.
If the world fails to force Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged coastal enclave, a humanitarian catastrophe affecting hundreds of thousands of Palestinians will take place, warned al-Thawabteh.
UNOCHA has said only four humanitarian aid trucks entered the Gaza Strip on Sunday, far below the average of 47 trucks per day between February 9 and 15 and a steep decline compared with 133 trucks per day the week before. It is important to note that before October 7, about 500 humanitarian aid trucks entered the Gaza Strip daily.
“Between January 1 and February 15, less than 20 percent of missions (15 out of 77) planned by humanitarian partners to deliver aid and undertake assessments in areas to the north of Wadi Gaza were facilitated by the Israeli authorities fully or partially and 51 per cent were denied (39 out of 77),” OCHA said in a statement.
“Access of missions to support hospitals and facilities providing water, hygiene, and sanitation (WASH) services were among those overwhelmingly denied” by Israel, OCHA added.
Hamas said in a statement on Telegram: “We call on the World Food Program and all UN agencies, including UNRWA, to put pressure on the occupying power, by announcing a return to work in the northern Gaza Strip in accordance with their international mandates to relieve our people from the dangerously increasing threat of famine, in compliance with their legal and humanitarian responsibilities,” reported Al Jazeera.
UNRWA ‘still waiting’ for Israel to share evidence of claims against the agency
Meanwhile, UNRWA’s future is uncertain after Israel is leading a global campaign to defund the UN organization, which is the primary aid distributor in the Gaza Strip.
While several major donor nations, including the US, have frozen vital aid to the agency due to the allegations, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said on Monday that the agency is still waiting for Israel to share evidence of its claims.
A new report by US intelligence has assessed with “low confidence” that a handful of staff members at UNRWA participated in the October 7 attacks on Israel, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing officials familiar with the findings.
The “low confidence” assessment indicates that the intelligence officials find Israel’s claims that a dozen UNRWA employees took part in the attacks plausible but can’t offer a more decisive confirmation as they lack independent evidence.
Similarly, the intelligence officials also weren’t able to verify Israel’s claims that a large number of UNRWA staff have links to Hamas. Israel has claimed that 10 percent of UNRWA’s 12,000 staff in Gaza have some kind of affiliation with the group.
Pressure mounts in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
On Thursday, at least one person was killed and eight wounded when three Palestinian gunmen opened fire at motorists near an Israeli checkpoint near occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police said, adding that two gunmen were killed, and a third was arrested.
A police spokesperson said the gunmen were Palestinians but gave no further details, according to Al Jazeera.
In response to the attack, Israel’s National Security Ministry, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has called for an escalation in the collective punishment of Palestinians.
“The freedom of life of the citizens of Israel prevails over the freedom of movement of the residents of the PA! We need to place more and more barriers and close roads on the Authority’s roads,” he said on X.
Similarly, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has demanded the approval of a plan to build thousands of new illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“The serious attack on Maale Adumim must have a decisive security response but also an answer from the settlements,” he wrote on X.
“I demand the prime minister approve the convening of the higher planning council and immediately approve plans for thousands of housing units in Maale Adumim and the entire region,” he said.
“Our enemies know that any harm to us will lead to more construction and more development and more of our control across the entire country.”
United Nations resolutions repeatedly affirmed that Israel’s establishment of settlements in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, has no legal validity. Most states and international bodies have long recognized that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
Hamas has said the attack was a “natural response to the [Israeli] occupation’s massacres and crimes in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank,” as cited by Al Jazeera.
Tensions across occupied Palestine have been increasing amid Israel’s state-sanctioned violence against Palestinians.
The day before the attack, a Palestinian child was fatally shot in the heart by Israeli forces in Qalqilya in the northern occupied West Bank, according to Wafa.
About 394 Palestinians have been killed in the occupied West Bank since October 7, including 100 children, according to OCHA.
The UN agency added that since October 7, Israeli demolitions have led to the displacement of 830 people, including 337 children, with 131 homes, and Israeli settlers carried out 573 recorded attacks against Palestinian people and their property.
Israel has also been tightening security in East Jerusalem as Ramadan approaches. On Wednesday, journalist Hamdah Salhut reported that Israeli authorities set up a checkpoint for Palestinians at Damascus Gate, a central entry point for Palestinians trying to reach the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
“Palestinians at the gate told me this is “the reality of life under occupation,” Salhut said in a social media post, expanding that Jewish Israelis bypass the security check.
US congressman: ‘Kill them all’
Republican US Congressman Andy Ogles sparked anger when he appeared to call for the mass killing of Palestinians when confronted by activists calling for a ceasefire.
A woman was telling Ogles about the footage of Palestinian children killed by Israel. He responded, “I think we should kill them all if that makes you feel better – everybody, Hamas.”
The comment has left Palestinian rights advocates questioning why the comment has not garnered a forceful rejection from mainstream politicians.
“Not a peep from Congressional leadership in response to this murderous statement and open support for genocide,” Jewish Voice for Peace Action said on X.
The same politicians brushing aside his comment are the ones who criticized Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress, in November over her criticism of Israel.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called on every member of Congress to condemn Republican Congressman Andy Ogles for appearing to call for the mass murder of Palestinians.
CAIR Deputy Director Edward Mitchell said in a statement: “If a member of Congress had called for every Israeli child to be killed, the entire American political establishment would rightfully condemn such remarks and call for, at the least, censure.”
Leila Warah is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Palestine.
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