On 14 November at approximately 1545 hrs, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) targeted and killed the acting chief of Hamas’ armed wing and one of his associates. This incident marked the opening of a large Israeli military offensive, officially named “Operation Pillar of Defense”, which is ongoing. The operation’s goals, as stated in a press conference by Israel’s Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense, are to increase Israel’s deterrence towards Hamas and to reduce the exposure of Israeli civilians to rocket fire from Gaza. The operation followed several weeks of intermittent escalations in violence
In the 48 hours since then, the IAF conducted hundreds of airstrikes, supplemented by firing from Israeli navy and tanks, all of which continue affecting Gaza’s entire population (1.6 million people). Most attacks reportedly targeted military facilities, many of which were located in residential areas.
Initial reports indicate that at least 18 Palestinians, of whom at least eight were civilians (including four children), were killed during these attacks. Another two Palestinian civilians were reportedly killed as a result of a Palestinian rocket that fell inside Gaza. One UNRWA staff was among the civilian casualties. Approximately 250 Palestinians were injured, a large proportion of whom are believed to be civilians, including 60 children and 40 women. At least 12 buildings were destroyed or severely damaged and some 140 sustained minor damage. The number of families displaced as a result is currently unclear, but is not believed to be significant.
During this period, Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of projectiles indiscriminately into southern Israel, with a few reaching the greater Tel Aviv area. While many of the rockets were intercepted by the Israeli Iron Dome system, others fell within or near residential areas. One rocket hit a house in Kiryat Malachi town in southern Israel, killing three civilians. Overall, 54 Israeli civilians and six soldiers were injured, and damage to civilian property was recorded.
The uninterrupted waves of airstrikes and indiscriminate rocket fire have also triggered widespread fear among the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, particularly among children, with dozens having to be treated for shock.
The two passenger crossings in the Gaza Strip, Erez (with Israel) and Rafah (with Egypt), have remained operational, despite some constraints. While the Israeli authorities announced that the exit of internationals and humanitarian cases via the Erez crossing is allowed, people trying to reach it reported being turned back at a checkpoint staffed by Hamas’ security personnel controlling access on the Gaza side. Kerem Shalom, the only crossing for commodities, including humanitarian goods, is closed until further notice. Information on tunnel activities is less reliable than prior to the escalation, however, it is believed that activities may have declined because of action taken against them.
Purchases of fuel among the population have risen due to the fear of shortages during the escalation. In anticipation of a fuel contingency and possibly lower fuel transfers, the Gaza Power Plant has turned off one of the two operating turbines (out of four available) to maintain its fuel stocks as long as possible. Blackouts remain between 8 and 12 hours a day.
The already fragile humanitarian situation is likely to deteriorate rapidly if hostilities escalate further.he UN Secretary-General has called for the parties to exercise the utmost restraint and to respect international humanitarian law.
THE HUMANITARIAN SITUATION IN THE GAZA STRIP:
INFORMATION BY CLUSTERS
With the start of the offensive, the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Gaza declared a state of emergency in all health facilities in the Gaza Strip. While hospitals have so far managed to treat all incoming injuries, the shortage of essential drugs and consumables is of major concern, particular if hostilities escalate further. At present, there are 192 essential drugs (40 percent of items in the essential drugs list) and more than 500 consumables (55 percent of essential items) out of stock.
In response, the Palestinian Authority’s MoH, in coordination with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), has arranged the delivery of 205 pallets of drugs and disposables to Gaza. The consignment, which has not yet arrived in Gaza, includes some of the most needed drug and consumable items for the treatment of injuries.
The impact of the escalation has had a substantial psychological effect on civilians in Gaza, especially children. Parents are reporting that children are displaying signs of stress, including excessive crying, bedwetting, and screaming when hearing frequent explosions. Preparations for the delivery of psychosocial support by humanitarian organizations are ongoing through the existing 21 UNICEF Family Centres (child-safe spaces, outreach) and five mobile Emergency Psychosocial Support teams (outreach and home visits).
Despite the events, there have been no reports of food shortages, although stocks of fresh items are low due to panic buying. Bakeries in Gaza reported having enough fuel and wheat flour stock for at least a week. However, there is increased demand for bread, with long queues observed in front of some bakeries. Given that over 90 percent of the wheat flour supply for Gaza’s private sector comes through the tunnels, the possibility of a further decline in operation of the tunnels is of concern.
UNRWA provides food assistance to approximately 800,000 refugee beneficiaries and the UN World Food Program (WFP) to another 285,000 non-refugees. UNRWA has been forced to suspend ongoing distribution but this will be resumed as soon as the security situation allows. Both agencies reported no gaps or concerns in terms of their food stocks for the coming weeks.
The water and waste water facilities across Gaza have continued to operate at previous levels. While an Israeli airstrike damaged one large water reservoir in Khan Younis serving 12,000 people, the municipality is temporarily using an alternative source and there has been no disruption in supply. According to Gaza’s water utility (CMWU), the fuel reserves at the main water and wastewater facilities are sufficient to operate at current levels for the coming two weeks, should power cuts remain at 8-12 hours a day. Consequently, most of the population is expected to continue receiving water for an average of 8 hours every three days.
Schools and universities in Gaza suspended classes until further notice. Initial information by the Palestinian Ministry of Education indicates that 15 schools throughout the Gaza Strip have sustained some type of damage.
Preliminary reports indicate that agricultural infrastructure and crops have sustained damages during the hostilities, particularly in the areas close to Gaza’s perimeter fence and in the Khan Younis area. A continuation of the fighting may result in serious economic losses if farmers across the Gaza Strip continue to have reduced access to their crops for maintenance and harvest.
OCHA is continuing to coordinate clusters in Gaza. Efforts are focused on information gathering, identification of stocks and potential response in the event of increased needs. The Inter-Agency Contingency Plan will be fully activated in the event of any substantial deterioration in the situation on the ground.