Israel has refused to lift its blockade of Gaza until its hostages are released. This comes as concerns grow over dwindling supplies of water, food, and fuel after five nights of bombardment.
The energy minister, Israel Katz, wrote on social media that no “electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter” until the “abductees” were free.
Israel is preparing to launch a ground invasion in response to bloody massacres carried out in 20 Israeli communities by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas last weekend, during which dozens of hostages were also seized, in the most serious escalation in the region for 50 years.
Israel Defence Forces strikes killed at least 33 people within two hours overnight on Thursday, according to Al Jazeera’s local reporter, bringing the death toll in Gaza to 1,354. The reporter said fighter jets had attacked houses in several areas, and civil defence groups recovered the bodies of the dead. In some areas, residents were sifting through rubble with their bare hands looking for survivors and bodies.
According to the report, since the fighting began, six neighborhoods in the strip have been destroyed. Eighteen healthcare facilities and 20 ambulances had been affected and 11 healthcare workers killed, the World Health Organization said, in the most intense bombing campaign the strip has suffered in the 16 years since Hamas seized control of the tiny, overcrowded area, home to 2.3 million people.
The UN said late on Wednesday the number of people displaced by the airstrikes had soared 30% within 24 hours to 339,000 – two-thirds of them crowding into UN schools. Palestinian media said that bombing had killed the brother of Mohammed Deif, Hamas’s military commander, and a senior commander from Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Hazem Balousha, the Guardian’s reporter in Gaza, reached by phone on Thursday morning, said the strip’s residents had been told that hospitals had stopped admitting all but emergency cases. Rafah, Gaza’s crossing point with Egypt, remains closed, and the only power station ran out of fuel on Tuesday, leaving the strip powered by scattered private generators. Those will shut off as well if fuel is not allowed in: the Red Cross has pleased for fuel deliveries in order to prevent overwhelmed hospitals from “turning into morgues”.
In Israel, the reported death toll has climbed to 1,300. Lt Col Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesperson, told reporters on Thursday that forces were preparing for a ground assault but that the political leadership had not yet ordered one. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to “crush and destroy” Hamas: as of Wednesday night, he leads a newly formed unity government and war cabinet, including members of the opposition.
Benny Gantz, the leader of the centrist National Unity party, a former defense minister and a strident critic of Netanyahu’s current far-right government, said: “We are all in this together. We are all enlisting. This is not a political partnership, but rather a unity of fate. This is the time to close ranks and to win.”