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The reality of Israel’s ‘total siege’ on Gaza – where two million Palestinians are trapped in a 25 mile stretch of land

Medics in Gaza warn of ‘catastrophic’ consequences of water, power, food and fuel being blocked for two million civilians

Bel Trew
Tel Aviv
Tuesday 17 October 2023 08:33 BST
Woman in Gaza explains situation as bombs fall around her

Israel’s defence minister has ordered a “total” siege on Gaza that would sever all power and water supplies, as well as blocking food and fuel, a move Palestinian medics warn will be “catastrophic” for the embattled civilian population.

Israel has turned the full might of its army onto pounding the 42-km long territory in retaliation for a surprise attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas at the weekend which has killed more than 1,400 Israelis.

The military told The Independent its troops were still battling militants across six different locations in the south of Israel.

As part of the surprise attacks, Hamas militants blew open border fences, infiltrated towns, killed civilians and soldiers and took over 100 hostages.

A plume of smoke rises in the sky of Gaza City during an Israeli airstrike (AFP via Getty Images)

In quick retaliation, Israel’s defence minister then announced a total closure of Gaza, which is home to two million people, and was already subject to a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

“I ordered a full siege on the Gaza Strip,” Yoav Gallant said in a terse statement shared on social media. “No power, no food, no gas, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly.”

Israel formally declared war and the army called up around 300,000 reservists, signalling a bloody battle is ahead after the unprecedented assault by Hamas.

In the early hours of Saturday, October 7, as many as 1,000 Hamas militants stormed Israel by land, sea and air, killing hundreds of civilians and seizing hostages.

Among the captives are soldiers and civilians, including women, children and the elderly, British and American citizens.

Senior Israeli military officials told The Independent that due to the unprecedented nature of the attack, “all options are on the table” including possible ground assault into Gaza — a move not seen since 2005.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned of a “long and difficult war ahead” and vowed to destroy “the military and governing capabilities” of the militant group, which is deeply rooted in Gaza .

On the ground, Nizar, a father-of-five who lives in Beit Lahia in the north of Gaza and asked not to be fully named, said a ground invasion would be “our worst nightmare” for families.

Israeli army soldiers are positioned with their Merkava tanks near the border with the Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)

“We have no shelter, no safe place to go. My house is already hosting two other families of relatives who fled from the border regions,” he said in desperation.

“We lost two children in the 2008 war, and have been displaced multiple times. Bombing is taking place every minute.”

Palestinian hospitals meanwhile said they were already struggling to treat the wounded from the relentless Israeli attacks because of pre-existing shortages of medical supplies.

Gaza, which is one of the most densely populated places on earth, has been subject to 16-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, ever since Hamas violently seized control of the strip in 2007.

This sparked a humanitarian crisis even before this latest war erupted. Mahmoud Shalabi, acting director of UK based Medical Aid for Palestinians charity, said the current restrictions already means nearly half the essential drug list is missing.

The Gaza health ministry said on Monday that at least 680 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since Saturday, including dozens in airstrikes on Jabalia refugee camp.

“A full siege would be a catastrophic we already only have three or four hours of electricity a day, water comes every once every 3 days, we lack antibiotics, saline even disposable medical gloves,” Mr Shalabi told The Independent from Gaza City.

Israeli military tries to strengthen borders with Gaza as battle enters third day (EPA)

“Now we add this unparalleled escalation. We have never seen this level of violence in the initial days, so we don’t know what is going to happen.”

He said medics at al-Shifa hospital , the largest medical centre in the strip, likened the influx of wounded from Israeli strikes to a “slaughterhouse”.

Another problem is the lack of electricity in Gaza, he added, which relies on Israel for a large part of its power supplies.

“No electricity in a hospital means death. Already hospitals are having to turn off generators and they are running out of fuel. The list goes on.”

Maha Hussaini, a Palestinian human rights advocate also in Gaza City, said the “complete siege” announced by the Israeli defence minister would “cut Gaza off from the outside world entirely.”

“There will be a total blackout as without electricity areas are already struggling with internet connections. People will be in total black out, being killed and wiped out in silence,” she added.

So far Israel says it has hit more than 2,000 targets in Gaza, and has levelled much of Beit Hanon in the northeast of the country where it says Hamas has been staging attacks.

Palestinians search for survivors after an Israeli airstrike on buildings in the refugee camp of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip (AFP via Getty Images)

Across the border in southern Israel, tanks and drones are guarding the half-destroyed openings in the border fence.

Israeli military spokesperson Major Nir Dinar said the IDF was trying to wrestle back control of at least six areas, after militants had blown open border fences in as many as 30 places.

“We are striking hard and will continue to strike hard,” he said, saying Hamas was “worse than Isis”.

Throughout the day, Palestinian militants continued firing barrages of rockets, setting off air raid sirens as far north and east as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Video posted online appeared to show plumes of smoke near a terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage.

Back in Gaza, civilians showed The Independent text messages they had been sent by the Israeli military, urging them to evacuate to different parts of the strip or risk being hit in further bombardments.

A member of the Palestinian civil defence carries a wounded boy rescued from rubble (AFP via Getty Images)

“Literally there is nowhere to go,” said Ms Hussain, adding that tens of thousands of Palestianins have already been displaced, after receiving text messages telling them to leave their homes.

“There is no safe place here, every place is targeted and can be targeted at any given moment. There are no shelters. Even the United Nations schools, which have received 74,000 people, can be hit. Yesterday an Unrwa school came under direct fire.”

Egypt’s state media reported that Cairo is trying to mediate an initial deal in which would see Hamas release captive women in exchange for Israel freeing female Palestinian prisoners.

It said that if both sides agree, there would be a temporary cease-fire to facilitate the exchange.

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