Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic

Special Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
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A Sudanese man shows freshly-harvested gum arabic resin on the tip of a "sunki", a long wooden stick with a sharp metal edge, in the state-owned Demokaya research forest in North Kordofan, on January 9, 2023. (AFP)
Special Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
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Sudanese men harvest gum arabic sap from an acacia tree in the state-owned Demokaya research forest of North Kordofan, Sudan, on January 9, 2023. (AFP)
Special Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
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A Sudanese man shows gum arabic sap on the branch of an acacia tree. (AFP)
Special Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
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Gum arabic acacia trees are not only tapped to produce valuable sap, but also help farmers relying on increasingly erratic rainfall by boosting moisture for their crops, making the difference between a healthy harvest or failure. (AFP)
Special Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
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Gum arabic resin forms on an acacia tree branch. (AFP)
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Updated 29 May 2023
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Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic

Conflict casts ominous shadow over global supplies of Sudan’s flagship export: gum Arabic
  • Soft-drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi warned stockpiles could run out in six months if Sudan fighting continues
  • Once flourishing industry has become a casualty of unrest, leaving producers and local market in dire straits

JUBA, South Sudan: The conflict in Sudan has claimed the lives, limbs and homes of growing numbers of people since it began on April 15. While the world hopes for a peaceful end to the bloodshed, many leaders of Sudanese industries warn that the economic toll of the violence could have a devastating impact on Sudan and internationally.

The once flourishing gum arabic industry in Sudan has become a casualty of the conflict, leaving producers and the local market in dire straits. Now, those who supply soft drink giants such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi have warned that their stockpiles could run out in three to six months if the fighting continues at its current pace.




Men idle their time away outside a destroyed bank branch in Khartoum, casualty to the ongoing war between rival military factions in Sudan. (AFP)

Gum arabic has dozens of uses. It serves multiple purposes in soft drinks, acting as a stabilizer to prevent flavors, coloring agents and essential oils from separating, and delivering a uniform blend of taste and aroma with every sip.

It also enhances texture and acts as a foam stabilizer, preventing excessive foaming while preventing the drink from going flat. Icings, soft candy, chewing gum and other sweets also use it as an ingredient.

Beyond its applications in food and beverages, gum arabic is used in watercolor paints, ceramic glaze, printmaking, pyrotechnics, glues, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, wine, shoe polish and lickable adhesives for postage stamps and envelopes.

 

In English-speaking countries, gum arabic is often referred to as gum acacia, reflecting its extraction from acacia trees that thrive in countries like Sudan, Chad, Nigeria, Senegal and Mali. Additionally, Kordofan gum is a variety of gum arabic produced in the Kordofan region of Sudan.

Exports from Darfur and Kordofan via Khartoum, especially of gum arabic, have been severely impacted since the start of the conflict. An estimated 5 million Sudanese — about 11 percent of the country’s population — rely directly or indirectly on income generated from the production of this valuable resource.

Hisham El-Kurdi, who previously implemented a gum harvesting project for smallholders, told Arab News that transportation routes had been disrupted and the capital, which serves as a hub, was embroiled in conflict, posing safety concerns for those trying to move the product.

“The majority of people in rural areas traditionally sell their products to the capital city of Sudan, Khartoum, where traders and businessmen handle the exports to various parts of the world. In the current situation, this process faces significant challenges,” he said.

FASTFACTS

A natural gum, gum arabic is the exudate of some acacia species, notably acacia Senegal and acacia Seyal, found across Africa’s so-called gum arabic belt.

Gum arabic is one of Sudan’s primary export commodities, linking the country to international markets in Europe, Asia and North America, accounting for an estimated 15% of Sudan’s exports.

There are about 1m households or 5m people who are estimated to be either directly or indirectly dependent on the gum arabic sector.

Producers live in or near gum arabic production areas that include villages and forests and take responsibility for cultivating, tapping, collecting and protecting their acacia trees during harvest months between October and February following the rainy season.

In Sudan, the acacia gum tree thrives naturally in a vast belt stretching 500,000 sq. km — roughly the size of France — from Al-Qadarif to Darfur. Recognizing its resilience in the face of droughts and climate change, international donors and African countries have invested in the Great Green Wall project, which aims to afforest the Sahel strip to combat desertification.

Akol Miyen Kuol, a South Sudanese expert on the region, told Arab News that the ongoing conflict in Sudan between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces would have a negative impact on the world economy due to the widespread use of gum arabic.

 

“At the local and national levels, if the ongoing war in Sudan doesn’t stop quickly, it will terribly affect those who collect the gum arabic and the general income for the country,” he said.

Daniel Haddad, director of the UK-based trading company Agrigum International Ltd., told Arab News that Sudanese gum arabic was “the gold standard and finds extensive use in soft drinks, pharmaceuticals and various other industries. The significance of Sudan’s production lies in its superior quality.”

“Port Sudan is currently focused solely on humanitarian relief efforts,” he added. “As a result, there are no incoming or outgoing shipments of commercial products and there is a lack of administrative personnel available to handle banking and official paperwork. Consequently, despite the presence of gum arabic in Sudan, there is currently no significant export activity taking place.”

The impact of the fighting in Sudan is poised to wreak havoc as Sudan contributed 66 percent of the global supply of gum arabic, according to a 2018 report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

INNUMBERS

$111m Sudan’s exports, making it the world’s second-largest exporter.

88,000 tons Total export of raw gum in 2021.

80% Sudan’s share of global gum arabic trade between 1950s and early 1990s.

70% Sudanese exporters’ share of global gum arabic supply.

25,000 tons Average annual Sudanese gum arabic exports.

50,000 tons Average amount of exports in the 1950s and 1960s.

$10m Value of FAO-financed Sudan’s forestry project to support gum arabic farmers, protect trees.

“If the situation continues, it will cause concern, but we’re pretty confident something will happen,” Haddad said.

“For each customer, each company, each product, gum arabic has a different use in the application. It could somehow get replaced, but customers don’t like artificial ingredients.”

Sudanese gum arabic, which accounts for 70 percent of the country’s exports, is so critical to the global economy that the US granted an exception for it even amid its embargoes on Sudan.

“I remain optimistic that gum arabic could serve as a catalyst to bring people together and facilitate the resolution of existing problems,” Haddad said.

 

 

“By addressing the challenges surrounding gum arabic production and export, it is possible to restore a sense of normalcy.

“This, in turn, would enable the people of Sudan and Khartoum to return to their homes, access essential resources such as food and electricity, and rebuild their lives. It is my sincere hope that such positive developments will unfold and contribute to a return to normalcy for the affected regions.”

 

Decoder

Gum arabic

Extracted from the sap of some Acacia tree species, gum arabic has plenty of uses, such as stabilizer in soft drinks and multiple uses for other foods. It is also used in watercolor paints, ceramic glaze, printmaking, pyrotechnics, glues, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, wine, shoe polish and lickable adhesives for postage stamps and envelopes. Gum arabic is one of the main products of Sudan, which accounts for 30 per cent of total exports worldwide. Because of the war in Sudan, producers — such as soft drink giants Coca-Cola and Pepsi — and the local market are in dire straits.


Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
Updated 9 sec ago
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Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon

Mother and 5-year-old daughter killed in Israeli attack on southern Lebanon
  • Their home is hit as Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling targets several towns and villages in the southwest of the country
  • US congressional delegation holds talks with Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri and other Lebanese officials in Beirut

BEIRUT: A mother and her young daughter were killed on Wednesday in an Israeli attack on the town of Majdal Zoun in the Tyre District of Lebanon’s South Governorate.

Khadija Mohammed Salman, who was said to be in her 40s, and her 5-year-old daughter Amal Hassan Al-Durr died when their house was hit. Several other people in the vicinity were injured and taken to hospitals in Tyre.

Majdal Zoun was one of several towns and villages in southwestern Lebanon hit by Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling. Others included Shehin, the outskirts of Alma Al-Shaab, Al-Dhahira, Al-Jabeen and Tayr Harfa. The most recent targets included Hula, Blida, Aita, Kafr Kila, and Khiam. Earlier, artillery fire that hit Ramia, Al-Naqoura and Alma Al-Shaab on Tuesday night caused extensive damage to crops, olive groves and buildings.

Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks within hours by launching 10 military operations against Israeli army positions. The group said its forces “targeted a military position of Israeli soldiers in the Evin Menachem settlement and another military position in the Shomera settlement,” as well as “two buildings in which enemy soldiers were stationed in the Avivim settlement, the Ruwaisat Al-Alam site in the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and a gathering of enemy soldiers in the vicinity of the Al-Marj military site and the Zibdin military site in the Shebaa Farms.” It said it also targeted “the Metulla settlement and the positions of enemy soldiers there … achieving direct hits.”

Israeli media reported that “a missile hit a building in the Metulla settlement after sirens went off in this settlement in the Finger of Galilee.”

Israeli warplanes broke the sound barrier as they flew over the regions of Tyre, Sidon and Nabatiyeh, causing fear and terror among schoolchildren and families. Widely shared video footage showed teachers attempting to calm terrified pupils in a school by explaining that the sonic boom generated by the planes was just a loud noise and not an attack. Still, many people assumed the noise was caused by airstrikes or other explosions, given the ongoing Israeli attacks extending far into southern Lebanon.

A teacher from a school in Nabatiyeh said: “At first, I thought that a new raid targeted the village of Ghazieh, similar to what happened a few days ago, or that the raid was on Nabatiyeh, due to the intensity of the sound that hurt our ears. I used my phone to find out what was happening and it turned out that it was a plane breaking the sound barrier.”

Meanwhile, caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi visited the city of Sidon where he chaired a meeting of security chiefs in the south. He said Lebanese authorities were “working with existing capabilities to help the displaced from the south.”

He called for “the south and Lebanon to be spared from the calamity of war” and said “the injustice to which innocent people are subjected is unacceptable.”

Amid growing diplomatic tensions between Lebanon and Israel, the Lebanese mission to the UN reacted to the Israeli envoy’s threats to “implement Resolution 1701 by force in the coming weeks.” Resolution 1707 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006 with the aim of resolving the war that year between Hezbollah and Israel. It called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and for all armed groups in Lebanon, including Hezbollah, to disarm.

The Lebanese delegation at the UN said: “The one violating Resolution 1701 is Israel, and its land, sea and air violations have been documented by the Security Council since 2006.

“The number of violations has exceeded 30,000, in addition to the daily attacks on southern Lebanese villages, which have led to the killing of dozens of civilians, the displacement of tens of thousands of citizens due to concentrated bombing, daily raids, the use of smart attack drones, and internationally banned white phosphorus shells, which destroyed more than 100,000 olive trees.

“Lebanon repeatedly confirmed, through the statements of its senior officials, that it never wanted a war and does not seek a war in the future. The country has also affirmed that it is fully committed to negotiating and searching for peaceful solutions that preserve its legitimate rights through the comprehensive and balanced implementation of the provisions of Resolution 1701.”

The Lebanese mission continued: “The threats made by senior Israeli officials promising death, chaos and destruction, including the statements of the Israeli representative to the UN, reveal Israel’s underlying intentions to expand the scope of the war and try to find a pretext to launch aggression against Lebanon.

“Therefore isn’t it time, Lebanon wonders, for Israel to give reason, logic and peace a chance instead of carrying on with its policy that relies on force, occupation, intimidation, killing and war?

“Lebanon asks the relevant UN bodies, especially the Security Council, to oblige Israel to stop its attacks and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty, initiate negotiations through the UN to ensure full adherence to Resolution 1701 and withdraw from the occupied Lebanese territories, in order to work toward the desired political solution and preserve regional peace and security.”

A US congressional delegation held talks with several Lebanese officials in Beirut on Wednesday. A spokesperson for Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri said “he met a delegation consisting of senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Coons, accompanied by the US ambassador to Lebanon, Lisa Johnson. This visit comes in light of the continued daily Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon.”


Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
Updated 30 min 1 sec ago
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Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution

Egypt, Arab League, Arab Parliament condemn US’ latest veto of Gaza truce resolution
  • Condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution
  • Resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members — but the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained

CAIRO: Egypt’s leaders have warned that the UN Security Council’s repeated failure to adopt a peace resolution and ceasefire in the Gaza Strip was setting “a shameful precedent” for the body.

The condemnation from Cairo came after the US’ third veto of a Security Council draft resolution — proposed by Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group — demanding an immediate end to fighting.

The resolution was backed by 13 out of the 15 members. But the US vetoed it, while the UK abstained.

In a statement, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that obstructing the passage of a resolution “calling for a ceasefire in an armed conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 29,000 civilians, most of them children and women, is a shameful precedent” in the history of the Security Council.

It added that the international community had a moral and human responsibility to end the daily suffering of Palestinian civilians caught in the line of Israeli fire.

The ministry statement said: “Egypt strongly denounces … selectivity and double standards in dealing with wars and armed conflicts in various regions of the world, which has come to question the credibility of the rules and working mechanisms of the current international architecture, especially the UN Security Council, which is entrusted with the responsibility of preventing and settling conflicts and halting wars.”

Cairo would continue to demand an immediate ceasefire and safe passage for humanitarian aid in the Strip, while opposing any attempts to displace Palestinians outside of their territories, it added.

It also noted Egypt’s opposition to Israeli military operations in the Palestinian city of Rafah.

Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN, Osama Abdelkhalek, said: “(Cairo) calls on the Security Council and all responsible international powers to save the peace option ... through the immediate implementation of the ceasefire.

“This will not hinder the ongoing mediation efforts, but rather provide them with the appropriate conditions to succeed.”

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the latest American veto “clearly indicates its political and moral responsibility for the continuation of the war.”

He added that the US stance “undermines the credibility of the UN system and reinforces the state of paralysis witnessed by the UN.

“(It) provides political cover for Israel to continue the aggression in light of the international community’s inability to stop the heinous crimes committed every day against Palestinian civilians.”

Algeria’s draft resolution aimed to give priority to the humanitarian dimensions in a bid to save hundreds of thousands of Palestinians “who remain vulnerable to the Israeli killing machine, starvation, and disease if the war continues.”

In a statement, the Arab Parliament warned that the Security Council was failing in its duty to control international security and stability and pointed out that system reforms were required.


UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
Updated 21 February 2024
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UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report

UK’s top bishop cancels meeting with Bethlehem pastor to avoid angering British Jews: Report
  • Munther Isaac says Justin Welby’s aides warned him against sharing platform with Jeremy Corbyn at rally
  • ‘It’s shameful. This sums up the Church of England. They lack the courage to say things’

LONDON: The UK’s archbishop of Canterbury canceled plans to meet Munther Isaac, the Bethlehem-based pastor who has criticized Israel’s war on Gaza, for fear of angering Britain’s Jewish community, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Justin Welby, the senior bishop of the Church of England, rejected the meeting after Isaac shared a platform with former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn at a pro-Palestinian rally last weekend, the Lutheran pastor and theologian said.

Corbyn, who led the party in opposition for five years from 2015 to 2020, has been a prominent critic of Israeli policies.

He withdrew from the leadership in part due to controversy surrounding alleged antisemitism within the party.

Isaac has been highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, and a Christmas sermon he delivered last year went viral.

He was invited to speak at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign rally last week by Husam Zomlot, Palestinian ambassador to the UK.

Isaac told The Guardian that Welby’s aides had informed him that no meeting could take place if he shared a platform with Corbyn.

Isaac said: “It’s shameful. It’s not my type of Christianity not to be willing to meet another pastor because you don’t want to explain why you met him.

“This sums up the Church of England. They danced around positions, and ended up saying nothing. They lack the courage to say things.”

Welby is thought to be concerned with rising antisemitism in the UK, and is balancing condemnation of Israel with avoiding outrage among Britain’s Jewish community.

He feared a meeting with Isaac would have caused “huge problems” for British Jews, The Guardian reported.

Lambeth Palace, Welby’s official residence, declined to comment on the matter when asked by The Guardian.

Isaac said: “The small Christian community in Gaza has discovered what is hell on earth. Most of them have lost their homes: 45 destroyed completely and 55 partially destroyed.

“There is no life left for them. This war will most likely bring an end to Christian life in Gaza. Everyone wants to leave.

“It is so painful for us to see the Christian church turn a blind eye to what is happening, offering words of concern and compassion, but for so long they have been silent in the face of obvious war crimes.

“Churches seem paralyzed, and they seem willing to sacrifice the Christian presence in Palestine for the sake of avoiding controversy and not criticizing Israel. I have had so many difficult conversations with church leaders.”

Isaac added: “I know from meeting many church leaders that in private, they say one thing, and then in public, they say another thing. I’ve had the same experience with many politicians and diplomats.”


Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
Updated 21 February 2024
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Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia

Italy arrests 12 people over speed boat migrant trips from Tunisia
  • The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros per person
  • The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant

ROME: Italian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 12 suspected human traffickers for allegedly organizing high-speed transfers for at least 73 illegal migrants from Tunisia to Europe.
Expert pilots operated the speed boats crossing from Tunisia to Marsala in Sicily between June and September last year, police said in a statement, describing them as “VIP trips.”
The traffickers transferred relatively small groups of up to 20 people on each of four trips, charging fees of up to 6,000 euros ($6,500) per person, the statement said.
The trip, on a crowded and less seaworthy vessel, would normally cost under 1,000 euros per migrant, an official with knowledge of the matter said.
Italy and other European governments have taken an increasingly
hard line
on immigration in recent years amid a surge of arrivals of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants. EU data shows fewer than 100,000 irregular migrants made to it Europe in 2020, but that rose to 250,000 last year.
Six Tunisians and six Italians were detained as part of an investigation coordinated by European police body Europol and the Italian anti-mafia police unit.
The investigators identified a Tunisian former police officer as the head of the trafficking organization.
They also held 19 illegal migrants and arrested eight Tunisian boat operators last year during the initial part of the investigation. Four of the boat crew were also charged over firing naval flares at a military vessel during an attempt to evade being apprehended by authorities.
Since the beginning of the year, 4,247 illegal migrants have landed on Italy’s shores, data from the home affairs ministry shows. That is down from more than 12,500 at the same stage in 2023, when Italy recorded unprecedented pressure from the number of people trying to reach Europe.
Tunisia has replaced Libya as North Africa’s main departure point for people fleeing poverty and conflict elsewhere in Africa and across the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.
This month, 17 migrants coming from Tunisia went missing during their sea voyage and at least nine died in two separate accidents.


Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
Updated 21 February 2024
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Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo

Hunger grips war-torn Gaza as truce talks resume in Cairo
  • Top White House official Brett McGurk in Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas
  • UN WFP halted aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence”

GAZA: Heavy fighting rocked besieged Gaza on Wednesday as aid agencies warned of looming famine, a day after a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire was blocked by a US veto.
Washington, which argued the resolution would have imperilled ongoing efforts to free hostages, sent top White House official Brett McGurk to Cairo for renewed talks involving mediators and Hamas.
Global concern has spiralled over the high civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in the war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel.
Combat and chaos again stalled the sporadic aid deliveries for desperate civilians in Gaza, where the UN has warned the population of 2.4 million is on the brink of famine and could face an “explosion” of child deaths.
The UN World Food Programme said it was forced to halt aid deliveries in north Gaza because of “complete chaos and violence” after a truck convoy encountered gunfire and was ransacked by looters.
More Israeli strikes pounded Gaza, leaving 103 people dead during the night, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory, which put the overall death toll at 29,313.
“We can’t take it anymore,” said Ahmad, a resident of Gaza City, where entire blocks are in ruins and cratered streets are strewn with rubble.
“We do not have flour, we don’t even know where to go in this cold weather,” he said. “We demand a ceasefire. We want to live.”
Particular concern has centered on Gaza’s far-southern Rafah area, where 1.4 million people now live in crowded shelters and makeshift tents, fearing attack by nearby Israeli ground troops.
Aid groups warn a ground offensive could turn Rafah into a “graveyard” and the United States has said the vast numbers of displaced civilians must first be moved out of harm’s way.
US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “without properly accounting for the safety and security of those refugees, we continue to believe that an operation in Rafah would be a disaster.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted the army will keep fighting until it has destroyed Hamas and freed the remaining 130 hostages, around 30 of whom are feared dead.
War cabinet minister Benny Gantz has warned that, unless Hamas releases the captives by the start of Ramadan around March 10, the army will keep fighting during the Muslim holy month, including in Rafah.
Humanitarian crisis
The war started when Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli figures.
Hamas also took about 250 hostages, many of whom were released during a week-long truce in late November.
Israel has heavily bombed Gaza and launched a ground invasion that has seen troops and tanks push through from the north toward the south, leaving vast swathes entirely destroyed.
The World Health Organization called the devastation “indescribable” around Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis, where it said it managed to evacuate some 32 patients.
“The area was surrounded by burnt and destroyed buildings, heavy layers of debris, with no stretch of intact road,” WHO said.
The clinic has no power or running water, it added, and “medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease.”
Major powers have tried to navigate a way out of the crisis, so far without success.
On Tuesday the UN Security Council voted on an Algeria-drafted resolution which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the release of all hostages.
The United States vetoed the resolution, which it labelled “wishful and irresponsible,” drawing strong criticism from China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and even close ally France.
Hamas said the US veto amounted to “a green light for the occupation to commit more massacres.”
Ongoing negotiations
Washington sent McGurk, the White House coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, to Egypt as part of efforts to advance a hostage deal, before he heads to Israel Thursday.
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh was already in Cairo for talks, the militant group said — days after mediators warned that prospects for a truce had dimmed despite repeated talks.
Qatar and Egypt have proposed a plan to free hostages in return for a pause in fighting and the release of Palestinian prisoners, but Israel and Hamas have so far failed to agree on a deal.
McGurk will hold talks “to see if we can’t get this hostage deal in place,” Kirby told reporters.
As the bloodiest ever Gaza war has continued into a fifth month, Israel has faced a growing international chorus of criticism.
Colombian President Gustavo Petro accused Israel of “genocide” after Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had compared the Gaza campaign to the Holocaust.
The war has set off clashes elsewhere in the Middle East, drawing in Iran-backed armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Israel has traded almost daily cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and US and British forces have hit Yemen’s Houthi rebels to deter their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.
In Syria, state television said an Israeli missile strike killed at least two people in Damascus, a claim Israel declined to comment on.
Violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank where the Israeli army said its troops killed three Palestinian militants during an overnight raid in the northern city of Jenin.