Prospects dim for ceasefire as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah

Prospects dim for ceasefire as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah
A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on February 18, 2024. (AFP)
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Updated 18 February 2024

Prospects dim for ceasefire as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah

Prospects dim for ceasefire as Israel rejects calls to spare Rafah

GAZA STRIP: Prospects for an Israel-Hamas ceasefire dimmed on Sunday after the US signaled it would veto the latest push for a UN Security Council resolution and mediator Qatar acknowledged that separate truce talks have hit an impasse.

Efforts to pause the over four-month-old war languish as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to reject international appeals to spare Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where around 1.4 million people have sought refuge.

Israel’s relentless campaign against Hamas militants has edged closer to the city.

At the morgue of a Rafah hospital, mourners bent down to give a final kiss to a loved one wrapped in a white body bag.

“That’s my cousin — he was martyred in Al-Mawasi, in the ‘safe area’,” said Ahmad Muhammad Aburizq. “And my mother was martyred the day before. 

“There’s no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe.” A total of 127 people died over the previous 24 hours, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on Sunday.

Even if a temporary truce deal is struck, Netanyahu said the ground invasion of Rafah will go ahead.

Countries urging Israel otherwise are effectively saying “lose the war,” argued the prime minister, whose coalition includes religious and ultra-nationalist parties.

Netanyahu spoke as thousands protested in Tel Aviv, the latest public call for an immediate election. They also accused the government of abandoning the hostages.

“Take politics out of decisions about our loved ones’ lives,” demanded Nissan Calderon, brother of hostage Ofer Calderon. “This is the moment of truth. There won’t be many more like it if the Cairo initiative collapses.”

Israel’s military on Sunday said troops in the southern city of Khan Younis are still operating “in the Nasser Hospital” and adjacent to it where they “located additional weapons.” Israel has for weeks concentrated its military operations in Khan Younis, the hometown of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, whom Israel accuses of masterminding the Oct. 7 attack.

On Sunday the military said it had killed around 35 militants, mostly by tank fire, and struck a “weapons storage facility” over the previous 24 hours. An air strike in central Gaza killed “over 10” militants, it said.

The head of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA in the Palestinian territories, Andrea De Domenico, said he had “no idea” how an estimated 300,000 people still in Gaza’s north had survived.

The UN has cited “significant restrictions” on aid delivery to north Gaza while in Rafah there had been “reports of people stopping aid trucks to take food.”

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
Updated 5 sec ago

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day

How the life and death of Walid Daqqah in an Israeli jail encapsulates Palestinian Prisoners’ Day
  • Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment, says Amnesty
  • Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 — and the 14th since the Gaza war began

LONDON: When he was arrested by Israeli forces on March 25, 1986, Walid Daqqah was just 24 years old. When he died of cancer on April 7 this year, aged 62 and still a prisoner, he had spent all of the intervening 38 years in Israeli custody.

In the process Daqqah earned the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s longest-serving Palestinian prisoner and was one of only a handful of inmates who had been in prison since before the Oslo Accords in the 1990s.

On Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, the story of Daqqah’s life and death has profound significance for every Palestinian jailed by Israel — and especially for the record number thrown behind bars since Oct. 7.

According to the Palestinian Commission of Detainee Affairs, Daqqah is the 251st Palestinian to have died in Israeli custody since 1967 and the 14th since the Hamas attack on Israel last year.

Daqqah was sentenced to life in prison in March 1987, following the abduction and killing of an Israeli soldier by a unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in 1984.

He was not found guilty of killing the soldier but of commanding the unit, a charge he consistently denied. Furthermore, Amnesty International said “his conviction was based on British emergency regulations dating back to 1945, which require a much lower standard of proof for conviction than Israeli criminal law.”

What happened next, said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty’s senior director for research, advocacy, policy and campaigns, was “a cruel reminder of Israel’s disregard of Palestinians’ right to life.”

Daqqah’s original 37-year sentence had been due to expire in March 2023, but in 2018 was extended by two years after he was implicated in a scheme to smuggle mobile phones to prisoners desperate to contact their families.

He was, in effect, sentenced to die in prison.

In 2022 Daqqah had been diagnosed with terminal bone marrow cancer, but his appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected, even after he had served his original sentence.

“It is heart-wrenching that Walid Daqqah has died in Israeli custody despite the many calls for his urgent release on humanitarian grounds,” Guevara-Rosas said.

“For Daqqah and his family, the last six months in particular were an endless nightmare, during which he was subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, including beatings and humiliation by the Israeli Prison Service, according to his lawyer.

“He was not permitted a phone call with his wife since Oct. 7. His final appeal for parole on humanitarian grounds was rejected by the Israeli Supreme Court, effectively sentencing him to die behind bars.”

Even when Daqqah was on his deathbed, “Israeli authorities continued to display chilling levels of cruelty … not only denying him adequate medical treatment and suitable food, but also preventing him from saying a final goodbye to his wife Sanaa Salameh and their 4-year-old daughter Milad,” Guevara-Rosas said.

Milad was the couple’s small miracle. When they were denied the privilege of conjugal rights, their child was conceived after a unique prison “breakout” — her father’s sperm was smuggled out of prison.

He was, however, only allowed to see his daughter once in person, in October 2022, and even then only after “a daunting legal battle.”

Worse, his wife, Sanaa Salameh, “who tirelessly campaigned for his release, could not embrace her dying husband one last time before he passed,” Guevara-Rosas said.

In death, Daqqah will live on in the collective memory of his people as one of the million or more Arab citizens imprisoned by Israel since 1948 and whose incarceration has been commemorated every year since 1974 on April 17 as Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.

This year, there are more Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons than ever before.

According to figures released by the Israel Prison Service, as of this month, Israel is holding 9,312 “security inmates” in jails under its jurisdiction, including Ofer Prison in the West Bank.

That figure does not include the thousands of Palestinians detained by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip, who are believed to be held incommunicado in military camps, including the Sde Teiman base in the desert.

On April 4 a group of nongovernmental organizations including the Committee Against Torture wrote to Israel’s Military Advocate General demanding the immediate closure of the facility. They cited the testimonies of innocent Palestinians who had been released from the camp who painted “a horrifying picture of inhumane prison conditions, humiliation and torture.”

The detainees, they said, “are held in a kind of cage, crowded, sitting on their knees in a painful position for many hours every day. They are handcuffed at all hours of the day and blindfolded. This is how they eat, relieve themselves and receive medical care.”

Even without this unknown number of detainees, the 9,312 prisoners acknowledged by the IPS is a record, beating even the previous highest number, established during the Gaza War of 2008-09.

Of these, just 2,071 have been tried and sentenced. A further 3,661 are what are euphemistically termed “administrative detainees” who have not been charged, tried or found guilty of any offense.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, administrative detention is when “a person is held without trial, without having committed an offense, on the grounds that he or she plans to break the law in the future.”

The tactic is disturbingly reminiscent of the 2002 science fiction film “Minority Report,” in which police arrest people for crimes that psychic “precogs” predict they might commit.

Amnesty said it was a particularly invidious legal device under which military authorities “may place individuals in administrative detention for up to six months at a time, if the commander has ‘reasonable grounds to believe that reasons of regional security or public security require that a certain person be held in detention.’”

The order may be extended for an additional six-month period “from time to time” and there is no time limit to administrative detention.

“The person is detained without legal proceedings, by order of the regional military commander, based on classified evidence that is not revealed to them.

“This leaves the detainees helpless — facing unknown allegations with no way to disprove them, not knowing when they will be released and without being charged, tried or convicted.”

A smaller but significant number of residents from the Gaza Strip — 849 — are being held under Israel’s controversial Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, which was introduced in 2002 and also allows arbitrary detention without trial.

Amnesty said the official figure was doubtless wide of the mark.

“We know there are thousands of Palestinians from Gaza held arbitrarily under said unlawful law for weeks and months on end,” a spokesperson told Arab News.

For many, incarceration is just the beginning of the nightmare.

“Palestinian detainees and prisoners have been subjected to gruesome levels of inhumane treatment that reached unprecedented levels of cruelty as part of the Israeli authorities’ retaliation campaign against Palestinians following Oct. 7,” Waed Abbas, a research and campaigns officer at Amnesty’s regional office in Ramallah and Jerusalem, told Arab News.

Drawing on the testimonies of Palestinians who have been released from prison and detention, and evidence gleaned through rarely allowed visits by lawyers, Amnesty said “a chilling image of a terrifying reality” was emerging.

“They’ve been tortured, starved, denied adequate medical care, cut off from the outside world, including from their families, put in solitary confinement, humiliated and degraded,” Abbas said.

The use of torture, she said, “has witnessed a spine-chilling spike and at least 40 Palestinian prisoners and detainees have died in Israeli custody over the past six months, either in military detention centers or in prisons run by the Israel Prison Service.”

And this is only the number of deaths officially acknowledged by the Israeli authorities. “The actual death toll may yet be higher,” Abbas said.

In many cases, the imprisonment of individuals has continued even after their death. “Families have been denied the right to mourn them with peace and dignity as Israel continues to withhold their bodies.”

Noa Sattath, executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the deteriorating conditions facing Palestinians in Israeli prisons was of “grave concern.”

Recent policy changes instigated by the IPS following an order by Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s right-wing minister of national security, “have resulted in the arbitrary denial of basic rights, including access to medical care and legal counsel,” he told Arab News.

ACRI had petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, protesting against “the policy of starving security prisoners, highlighting testimonies of extreme hunger and poor food quality among detainees,” and also called for the immediate resumption of Red Cross visits to Palestinian detainees.

“Even, and perhaps especially, amid conflicts and hostage situations, upholding detainees’ rights remains imperative for ensuring justice and dignity for all,” Sattah said.

For Miriam Azem, international advocacy and communications associate at Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the extent to which the wider world is turning a blind eye to Israel’s abuse of human rights and legal norms is shocking.

“To be frank, this has gone under the radar, in terms of both the mainstream global media and most of the Western world, including the UN,” she said.

In a bid to put the issue on the global agenda, on Feb. 19, four NGOs, including Adalah and Physicians for Human Rights Israel, submitted a joint plea for action to Dr Alice Edwards, the UN special rapporteur on torture, drawing her attention to the “marked and severe escalation in the abuse of Palestinian detainees and prisoners incarcerated in Israeli prisons and detention facilities” since Oct. 7.

Among other things, the signatories urged Edwards to “call on Israel to immediately halt the systematic abuse, torture and ill-treatment inflicted upon Palestinian prisoners and detainees,” to ensure that “all persons deprived of liberty are afforded all legal safeguards from the very outset” and guarantee adequate medical care generally and “specifically for victims of abuse, torture and ill-treatment.”

As part of the appeal the NGOs documented 19 “very concrete” cases backed by “substantive evidence and testimonies of torture and ill treatment.”

The dossier makes for disturbing reading.

“Prisoner A,” released from Gilboa Prison, and other inmates “were subjected to beatings in their cells (and) were forced to curse themselves and to crawl while carrying an Israeli flag on their back and were threatened with beatings if they failed to do so.”

Throughout Detainee E’s detention in the Russian Compound Detention Center in Jerusalem between Oct. 29 and Nov. 12, 2023, “he was beaten on four occasions by wardens, including kicking, punching and the use of batons.”

In a hearing at Judea Military Court on Nov. 13, “female detainee A’s attorney reported that A had sustained repeated abuse; among other incidents, wardens had beaten A in her cell, without cameras, while she was naked.”

Two days later, at a hearing at Haifa District Court, it was reported that another female detainee from Hasharon Prison “had been threatened with rape and bodily assault.”

Several of the highlighted cases documented in distressing detail incidents of sexual abuse and daily violence suffered by male prisoners in Ketziot Prison.

Azem said that given the difficulties of collecting evidence, the 19 submitted cases were merely a representative sample of a far larger problem.

“One of the themes we have highlighted in the document is that prisoners face extreme threats of reprisals for speaking out.”

On March 8, the UN rapporteur said she was investigating the allegations of torture and mistreatment of Palestinian detainees in Israel and was in talks to visit the country.

In a statement to Reuters, the UN human rights office said it had received “numerous reports of mass detention, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of Palestinians in northern Gaza by the Israeli military and has recorded the arrests of thousands in the West Bank.”

Responding to the allegations in a statement to AFP, a spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said: “All prisoners are detained according to the law.”

It said the service was “not aware of the claims” against it, but stressed that any complaints filed by detainees “will be fully examined and addressed by official authorities.”

In many ways the life and death of Walid Daqqah symbolizes the wider suffering of the tens of thousands of men, women and children who have followed him into Israeli custody over the almost four decades since he was first incarcerated.

How he lived his limited life behind bars, however, lives on as an example of how hope can survive in even the most seemingly hopeless of circumstances.

In an obituary published on April 8, the day after his death, Amnesty said that while behind bars Daqqah “wrote extensively about the Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons.”

“He acted as a mentor and educator for generations of young Palestinian prisoners, including children,” it said.

“His writings, which included letters, essays, a celebrated play and a novel for young adults, were an act of resistance against the dehumanization of Palestinian prisoners.”

A line he once wrote shines as a beacon of hope for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who since 1986 have followed him into captivity: “Love is my modest and only victory against my jailer.”

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation
Updated 12 min 45 sec ago

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation

Algerian reporter says he was expelled from his country without explanation
  • Farid Alilat wrote on Facebook he spent 11 hours in police custody at the airport before being boarded onto a plane and sent to France

ALGIERS: An Algerian journalist was expelled from the country after flying in from France and not being allowed to leave the airport as journalists continue to face challenges reporting in Algeria.

Farid Alilat, a writer for the French-language magazine Jeune Afrique, wrote on Facebook that he spent 11 hours in police custody on Saturday at the airport before being boarded onto a plane and sent to France, where he has a residency permit.

Alilat said he regularly takes flights from Paris to Algiers to report on Algeria, where he has for years been a well-known journalist due to his work for French-language daily newspapers including Liberté, which was shuttered in 2022 amid financial problems and scuffles with the government and Algeria’s state-owned oil company, both of which are major advertisers for the country’s newspapers.

In a lengthy post in which he wrote of his deportation as if he were reporting on it, Alilat alleged that police officers on the tarmac in Algiers told him that they were acting on orders “from above.”

He said he was interrogated about his travels, who he has met with and about Jeune Afrique, which Algerian authorities believe favors their neighbor and regional rival, Morocco. Few Algerian media outlets reported on Alilat’s expulsion and few politicians commented on it. Former Communications Minister Abdelaziz Rahabi called it “a measure from another era that serves neither the people nor the government.”

“No one can be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter their own country,” he wrote on Facebook.

The episode is the latest instance of Algeria’s government restricting journalists from reporting in Algeria and comes while high-profile journalists, including editors Ihsane El Kadi and Mustapha Benjama remain in prison on charges related to using foreign funds to finance journalism and disrupting public order. The government, however, has also resumed granting authorizations to journalists starting new media outlets or television shows and last year passed a law enshrining new protections for journalists.

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah
Updated 28 min 48 sec ago

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah

Israeli tanks push back in northern Gaza Strip, warplanes hit Rafah
  • Israel obstructing access to victims of Hamas Oct. 7 attack: UN probe

GENEVA/CAIRO: Israeli tanks pushed back into some areas of the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday which they had left weeks ago, while warplanes conducted airstrikes on Rafah, the Palestinians’ last refuge in the south of the territory, killing and wounding several people, medics and residents said.

Residents reported an internet outage in the areas of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia in northern Gaza. 

Tanks advanced into Beit Hanoun and surrounded some schools where displaced families have taken refuge, said the residents and media outlets of the militant Palestinian group Hamas.

“Occupation soldiers ordered all families inside the schools and the nearby houses where the tanks had advanced to evacuate. 

The soldiers detained many men,” one resident of northern Gaza said via a chat app.

Beit Hanoun, home to 60,000 people, was one of the first areas targeted by Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza last October. 

Heavy bombardment turned most of Beit Hanoun, once known as “the basket of fruit” because of its orchards, into a ghost town comprising piles of rubble.

Many families who had returned to Beit Hanoun and Jabalia in recent weeks after Israeli forces withdrew, began moving out again on Tuesday because of the new raid, some residents said.

Palestinian health officials said in one strike, Israel killed four people and wounded several others in Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are sheltering and bracing for a planned Israeli ground offensive into the city, which borders Egypt.

The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the central Gaza Strip and that they had killed several gunmen who attempted to attack them.

“Furthermore, over the past day, IDF fighter jets and aircraft destroyed a missile launcher along with dozens of terrorist infrastructure, terror tunnels, and military compounds where armed Hamas terrorists were located,” it added.

In Al-Nusseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, residents said Israeli planes had bombed and destroyed four multi-story residential buildings on Tuesday.

Israel is still imposing “unlawful” restrictions on humanitarian relief for Gaza, the UN human rights office said on Tuesday, despite assertions from Israel and others that barriers have eased.

The amount of aid now entering Gaza is disputed, with Israel and Washington saying aid flows have risen in recent days but UN agencies say it is still far below bare minimum levels.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 33,843 Palestinians have so far been killed by Israeli fire since Oct. 7, including 46 in the past 24 hours.

Israel is preventing UN investigators from speaking to witnesses and victims of the Oct. 7 attack, former UN rights chief Navi Pillay, who is chairing a three-person probe, said.

The unprecedented Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021 to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

“I deplore the fact that people inside Israel who wish to speak to us are being denied that opportunity, because we cannot get access into Israel,” Pillay said.

The investigation briefed diplomats at the UN in Geneva on its work and said that since Oct. 7, it had focused on the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas.

“So far as the government of Israel is concerned, we have faced not merely a lack of cooperation but active obstruction of our efforts to receive evidence from Israeli witnesses and victims to the events that occurred in southern Israel,” said Chris Sidoti, one of the three members of the inquiry.

The Gaza war began with Hamas’s attack against Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

The militants also took about 250 hostages, of whom Israel estimates 129 remain in Gaza, including 34 who are presumed dead.

Pillay, 82, a South African former High Court judge, said the commission was investigating alleged crimes during the Hamas attack as well as some allegedly committed by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank.

Sidoti, speaking via video-link, said the investigation had found it difficult to collect evidence from large numbers of witnesses.

Israel kills local Hezbollah commander in Lebanon strike

Men clean the reported site of an Israeli strike on vehicles in the southern Lebanese village of Shehabiya on April 16, 2024.
Men clean the reported site of an Israeli strike on vehicles in the southern Lebanese village of Shehabiya on April 16, 2024.
Updated 26 min 19 sec ago

Israel kills local Hezbollah commander in Lebanon strike

Men clean the reported site of an Israeli strike on vehicles in the southern Lebanese village of Shehabiya on April 16, 2024.
  • Hezbollah said in a statement that Ismail Yusef Baz had been killed, without mentioning his rank or role
  • Aircraft also hit “Hezbollah military structures and terrorist operatives” elsewhere in south Lebanon on Tuesday, Israeli military said

BEIRUT: An Israeli strike Tuesday killed a local Hezbollah commander in south Lebanon, the Israeli army said, with the Iran-backed group saying three of its members were killed and launching rockets in retaliation.
Israel and Hamas ally Hezbollah have been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire since the Palestinian militant group attacked southern Israel on October 7, triggering war in the Gaza Strip.
Tuesday’s exchanges came with regional tensions high after Iran launched missile and drone attacks on Israel over the weekend in retaliation for a deadly Israeli strike on Tehran’s consulate in Damascus.
The Israeli military said its “aircraft struck and eliminated Ismail Yusef Baz, the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal sector,” adding he was killed in south Lebanon’s Ain Baal area.
Aircraft also hit “Hezbollah military structures and terrorist operatives” elsewhere in south Lebanon on Tuesday, it said in a separate statement.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency (NNA) reported one dead in an Israeli strike on a car in Ain Baal, about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the border.
Hezbollah said in a statement that Baz had been killed, without mentioning his rank or role, while a source close to the group told AFP that “the field commander in charge of the Naqura region” had been killed “in an Israeli strike.”
The NNA also said an “enemy strike” targeted two cars in Shehabiya, about 10 kilometers from Ain Baal, reporting an unspecified number of dead and wounded.
Hezbollah later said that two more of its fighters had been killed, while its ally the Amal movement announced one dead in Ain Baal.
Hezbollah said it launched rockets at several Israeli military bases “in response to the Israeli enemy’s attacks” on Lebanese villages, in particular Ain Baal and Shehabiya.
Earlier Tuesday, Hezbollah had said its fighters launched an “air attack with suicide drones in two phases... striking the Iron Dome (air defense system) platforms and their crew” in the Beit Hillel area.
The Israeli military said “two armed” drones entered from Lebanon and exploded near Beit Hillel, with local Israeli authorities saying three people were wounded.
On Monday, Hezbollah targeted Israeli troops with explosive devices, wounding four soldiers who crossed into Lebanese territory, the first such attack in six months of clashes.
The violence has killed at least 368 people in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah fighters but also including at least 70 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, the military says 10 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed since hostilities began.
Tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes on both sides of the border, with the violence fueling fears of all-out conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, which last went to war in 2006.

Gaza’s 2m Palestinians now a population of ‘survivors,’ UN humanitarian chief says

Gaza’s 2m Palestinians now a population of ‘survivors,’ UN humanitarian chief says
Updated 32 min 21 sec ago

Gaza’s 2m Palestinians now a population of ‘survivors,’ UN humanitarian chief says

Gaza’s 2m Palestinians now a population of ‘survivors,’ UN humanitarian chief says
  • Andrea De Domenico says the situation in the territory during Israel’s continuing war against Hamas is ‘dire, tense and very volatile’
  • He warns it will ‘take years’ for Gaza’s 625,000 students to return to their studies as every university is destroyed and schools have been closed since the war began

LONDON: The 2 million Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip can now be accurately described as a population of “survivors,” a UN humanitarian chief said on Tuesday.

Andrea De Domenico, head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs operations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said the situation in Gaza during Israel’s continuing war against Hamas is “dire, tense and very volatile.”

The OCHA is “making all effort possible” to deliver aid to the territory, he added, but “the reality is that there is very little that we can bring to inside Gaza to tackle displacement and battle the looming famine.”

De Domenico said that if the widely predicted famine in Gaza comes to pass, it would be “completely man-made and preventable.”

He added that while there have been recent additional efforts by the UN, and by the Israelis “to some extent,” to increase the amount of aid entering northern Gaza, the worst-affected part of the territory, the situation would require a “massive operation” simply to reach the “minimum standard” of aid that is needed, which is something the OCHA is not in a position to mount at this time.

On Sunday, the agency said Israel “impeded or denied access” to 41 percent of UN-coordinated aid missions in northern Gaza between April 6 and 12.

A plume of smoke billows during Israeli bombardment at Al-Daraj neighbourhood in Gaza City on April 16 amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

De Domenico also highlighted the “problematic situation” in and around hospitals in Gaza, especially at Al-Shifa where heavy fighting has caused widespread damage and destruction, which he said was proving to be another major obstacle to the delivery of aid and other relief supplies.

“Our team entered (Al-Shifa hospital) in the following days (after the fighting) and have had to deal with a scene of terror; the hospital is completely dysfunctional at this moment,” he said.

“The number of bodies that have been buried in or on the premises of Al-Shifa, or around the hospital, has also been problematic, to the point that UN and Palestinian colleagues have helped the families to start to recognize the remnants of the corpses.”

Also on Tuesday, it was revealed that relentless Israeli airstrikes have destroyed every university in Gaza. This, coupled with the fact that all schools in the territory have been closed since Israel launched its military offensive in October, means it will “take years” for the enclave’s 625,000 students to return to their studies, De Domenico said.

On Monday, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Jamie McGoldrick, said about 800,000 Palestinians might be forced to flee Gaza if the Israeli military goes ahead with a threatened ground incursion in the southern city of Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, which has become the final refuge for hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting in other parts of the territory.

He added that about 90 percent of approximately 4,000 buildings located along Gaza’s eastern border with Israel have been destroyed or damaged during the war, according to the UN Satellite Center.