Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages

Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages
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Demonstrators react during a rally calling for the release of hostages kidnapped in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, in Tel Aviv, on Feb. 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages
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Demonstrators hold signs as they attend a rally calling for the release of hostages kidnapped in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, in Tel Aviv on Feb. 20, 2024. (Reuters)
Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages
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Demonstrators hold signs as they attend a rally calling for the release of hostages kidnapped in the deadly Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, in Tel Aviv, on Feb. 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 February 2024
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Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages

Netanyahu says Israel won’t ‘pay any price’ for release of Gaza hostages
  • Smotrich told Kan Radio that their return was “very important” but that they could not be released “at any cost”
  • “There is a lot of pressure on Israel from home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of our goals,” Netanyahu said

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Tuesday that Israel would not pay any price for the return of hostages still held in Gaza amid ongoing negotiations to secure their release.
Asked about the 134 hostages who remain in Gaza, Smotrich told Kan Radio that their return was “very important” but that they could not be released “at any cost.”
He said the way to free them was by ramping up the military pressure on Gaza and defeating Hamas, the armed group that governs the blockaded strip.
His remarks drew rebukes from opposition leader Yair Lapid and minister Benny Gantz and angered some families of hostages who have been trying to up the pressure on the government to strike a deal.
But shortly after the radio interview Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office published a statement echoing Smotrich’s position.
“There is a lot of pressure on Israel from home and abroad to stop the war before we achieve all of our goals, including a deal to release the hostages at any cost,” Netanyahu said. “We are not willing to pay any price, certainly not the delusional cost that Hamas demands of us, which would mean defeat for the state of Israel.”
The remarks came as the United States plans to send its Middle East envoy to the region for continued talks between the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar that seek to broker a ceasefire and the release of hostages.
Israel said 1,200 people were killed and 253 more were abducted into Gaza during the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on its towns. Since then, Israel’s air, ground and sea offensive has killed nearly 29,000 Palestinians with thousands more trapped under the rubble, according to Palestinian authorities, and laid much of the blockaded enclave to waste.
The most significant release of hostages has so far happened during the only, week-long negotiated pause in the war in November, when Hamas freed 110 Israelis and foreigners it had captured.


Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
Updated 18 April 2024
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Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief

Call to close UNRWA is attempt to strip millions of Palestinians of refugee status: agency chief
  • Philippe Lazzarini tells Security Council demise of agency would also accelerate onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize transition from a ceasefire to recovery
  • Meeting of the council requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israel to force the agency out of Gaza and have it dismantled entirely

NEW YORK CITY: Disbanding the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees would have lasting repercussions for millions of Palestinians because it would result in them being stripped of their refugee status, the head of the agency told the Security Council on Wednesday.

Philippe Lazzarini warned it would also accelerate the onset of famine in Gaza, and jeopardize the eventual transition from a ceasefire to recovery by depriving a traumatized population of the essential services it requires.

Some of the ramifications would be long term, he added: “It will make impossible the formidable task of bringing half a million deeply distressed girls and boys back to learning. Failing to deliver on education will condemn an entire generation to despair, fueling anger, resentment, an endless cycle of violence.”

The meeting of the council was requested by Jordan in response to long-running, continual attempts by Israeli authorities to force the agency out of Gaza, and have it dismantled entirely.

It began with a minute’s silence in honor of the 178 UNRWA employees killed during the war in Gaza.

The agency has been facing great challenges not only in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, but also in ensuring it is able to continue its operations more generally.

More than 163 UNRWA installations in the Gaza Strip have been damaged during the war between Israel and Hamas, and only nine of its 24 healthcare facilities remain operational.

Meanwhile the agency has been in a precarious financial position for some time, in part because of the decision by some major donor nations to suspend the funding they provide for the agency, which threatened to bring its operations grinding to a halt.

Several countries put their donations on hold after Israeli authorities alleged in January, without providing any supporting evidence, that 12 UNRWA workers had played a role in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel.

The agency terminated the contracts of the employees identified in the allegations, and the Office of Internal Oversight Services, the UN’s main investigative body, launched an inquiry at the request of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Separately, the UN also ordered an independent review, led by the French former minister of foreign affairs, Catherine Colonna, of the steps the agency takes to uphold the principle of neutrality among its workers. The review group is expected to present its findings on April 20.

Lazzarini told council members on Wednesday that the real reason behind the Israeli calls for UNRWA to be closed down is not about its adherence to humanitarian principles, it is an attempt to end the refugee status of millions of Palestinians. The true aim is to change the long-standing political parameters for peace in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he added.

“Accusations that UNRWA has deliberately perpetuated Palestinians’ refugee status are false and dishonest,” Lazzarini said. “The agency exists because a political solution does not. It exists in lieu of a state that can deliver critical public services.

“The international community has long attempted to contain, rather than resolve, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lip service is paid to the two-state solution each time an escalation occurs, costing lives and hope.

“UNRWA was created 75 years ago as a temporary agency, a stop-gap measure, pending a political answer to the question of Palestine.

“If the international community truly commits to a political solution, UNRWA can retrieve its temporary nature by supporting a time-bomb transition, delivering education, primary healthcare and social support. It can do so until a Palestinian administration takes over the services.”

Russia’s permanent representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzia, called on the Security Council to consider, as a matter of urgency, imposing sanctions on Israel for its failure to implement the council’s recent ceasefire resolution.

“Everyone knows about the facts, the unthinkable statistics, the number of people dead and those in need of urgent food and medical assistance, as well as reported cases of people dying of famine and dehydration, including minors,” he said.

“The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) is blocking half of humanitarian convoys, yet aid supplies are waiting at the border. We warned time and time again that in the absence of a lasting, sustainable ceasefire, which must be duly monitored by military observers, all of our humanitarian efforts are doomed.”

The US deputy ambassador to the UN, Robert Wood, said the conflict in Gaza has been one of the worst in recent memory in terms of the number of aid workers killed, with the total standing at more than 240 since Oct. 7.

“These incidents are unacceptable. Humanitarian personnel must be protected, full stop,” he said, and he expressed deep concern that “Israel has not done enough to protect humanitarian aid workers or civilians.”

Wood added: “UNRWA plays a crucial role throughout the region, contributes to stability of the region and supporting Palestinian refugees, to educating hundreds of thousands of students, to providing primary healthcare and critical relief and social services.

“UNRWA is the bedrock of support for the most vulnerable Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the West Bank. The United States supports this important work and emphasizes that it must continue uninterrupted.”


Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
Updated 18 April 2024
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Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war

Jordan says Israeli retaliation for Iran strikes risks wider regional war
  • Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield”

AMMAN: Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said on Wednesday an Israeli retaliation against Iranian strikes could bring a real risk of dragging the whole region into a devastating war.
In an interview released by state media, Safadi said his country was lobbying major powers against an escalation that would have far-reaching consequences for regional stability and security.
“The risks are enormous. That could drag the whole region into war, which would be devastating to us in the region and we’ll have very, very serious implications for the rest of the world including the U.S,” Safadi said.
“The situation is too dangerous. The chances of regional explosion are real, and that has got to stop. We’ve got to make sure there’s no further escalation,” he added.
Staunch US ally Jordan, with the help of American air defenses and support from the UK and France, shot down most of the Iranian drones and missiles that were flying over the country toward Jerusalem and a wide range of targets in Israel.
“Now the pressure should be on Israel not to escalate,” Safadi said, adding Tehran had said it attacked in retaliation for a suspected Israeli airstrike on its embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 and would not go further unless Israel responded.
Jordan neighbors Syria and Iraq – both countries where Iranian proxy forces operate – and is next door to Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank
“We are in the middle of the fire, so both parties have to understand that we’ll do what we have to do to protect our own, and to prevent this escalation,” Safadi said.
Safadi warned that his country would act firmly in the event of another flare-up and that Jordan would not allow “either Iran or Israel to turn the kingdom into a battlefield.”
“We will take down any projectiles that threaten our peoples and violate our sovereignty, and pose a threat to Jordanians. And we made this clear to both Israel and Iran,” he said.
Iranian drones that came from the direction of Iraq and flew over southern Jordan and the city of Aqaba that were heading to Israel’s Eilat port were also intercepted.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using the confrontation with Iran to divert attention from Gaza, Safadi said. The Israeli leader should not be allowed to drag “Washington and major Western powers into a war with Iran,” he added.


Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
Updated 29 min 54 sec ago
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Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 

Why displaced Syrians in Lebanon face an agonizing dilemma amid mounting hostility 
  • Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, placing additional strain on its economy 
  • The recent murder of a Lebanese Forces party official has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against Syrians 

LONDON: Syrian refugees in Lebanon are in an impossible fix, unable to safely return home while also facing mounting hostility from host communities and local authorities, especially following the death of a Lebanese Forces party official, allegedly at the hands of Syrian criminals.

Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based party, was reportedly kidnapped and later killed in a Syrian area near the Lebanese border. Seven Syrian nationals were arrested on suspicion of killing Suleiman in what was dubbed a botched carjacking.

The killing of Pascal Suleiman, the Byblos District coordinator of the Christian-based Lebanese Forces party, is being blamed on Syrians but party leaders are not convinced. (AFP/File Photo) 

The Lebanese Forces and its allies were not fully convinced that Syrians were behind the killing, which took place in an area controlled by its Hezbollah rivals, suggesting that Lebanese authorities were using the Syrians as a convenient patsy.

Although the scapegoating of Syrians in Lebanon has been commonplace since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, dispersing millions of refugees throughout the region, the murder of Suleiman has triggered a fresh wave of violence and vitriol against displaced households.

INNUMBERS

90% Syrian households in Lebanon living in extreme poverty.

52% Live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters. 80% Lack legal residency, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

100k Resettled from Lebanon to third countries since 2011.

Haneen, a Syrian university student whose name has been changed for her safety, described recently witnessing a group of Lebanese men assaulting and hurling abuse at a man they labeled “Souri” (Syrian). 

“The slaps were so loud, I felt as if they were falling on my face,” she told Arab News.

Videos have emerged on social media in recent days showing Lebanese Forces supporters venting their fury on random Syrians in the street — many of them refugees. Angry mobs also vandalized cars with Syrian license plates and looted Syrian-owned businesses.

People march in Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli on April 28, 2023, to protest against the forcible deportation of Syrian refugees. (AFP/File)

Other videos showed Lebanese men on motorcycles roaming the streets in various parts of the country, including Keserwan and Burj Hamoud, where they ordered Syrian occupants to leave their homes and businesses within 48 hours.

Intercommunal tensions in Lebanon have been stoked further by the rhetoric of Lebanese politicians, who frequently blame the country’s many ills on the presence of more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

Infographic courtesy of Access Center For Human Rights (ACHR)

Between April and May 2023, the Lebanese army arbitrarily arrested and deported thousands of Syrians, according to Human Rights Watch.

Infographic courtesy of Access Center For Human Rights (ACHR)

In a recent press conference, Bassam Mawlawi, the acting interior minister, said the country “will become stricter in granting residency permits and dealing with (Syrians) residing in Lebanon illegally.”

He claimed that “many crimes are being committed by Syrians” and stressed that the “Syrian presence in Lebanon can no longer be tolerated and is unacceptable.”

In October last year, he even sought to portray Syrian refugees as a danger to the country’s “existence” and “a threat to Lebanon’s demographics and identity.”

Lebanese Interior Minister Bassam al-Mawlawi speaks during a press conference on April 9, 2024, about the killing of local politician Pascal Suleiman on April 9, 2024. Lebanese officials blamed Syrian refugees, but leaders of the Lebanese Forces party were unconvinced. (AFP/File photo)

Echoing these sentiments was Abdallah Bou Habib, the acting foreign minister, who during a visit to the Greek capital Athens on April 8 described the number of Syrians in Lebanon as “a problem.”

Just days before Suleiman’s death, Amin Salam, Lebanon’s economy minister, said the caretaker government should declare a “state of emergency” regarding Syrian refugees.

Karam Shaar, a senior fellow at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, a nonpartisan Washington think tank, said Lebanese politicians were showing signs of “hysteria” over the Syrian presence in Lebanon.


ALSO READ: Lebanon PM warns Syrian refugees pose ‘danger to the nation’


While “part of that is understandable and fair,” Shaar told Arab News that “part of it is just Lebanese politicians scapegoating their failures and pinning them on Syrians.”

Omar Al-Ghazzi, an associate professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics, acknowledged that the influx had “made long-standing economic problems worse, whether in terms of infrastructure, public services and unemployment, particularly as Lebanese leaders stand accused of making financial profit from international aid.

“However, rather than blaming leaders and the political system for the collapsed economy in Lebanon, it became a convenient narrative to blame Syrians.”

Lebanese demonstrators clash with security forces during a protest demanding better pay and living conditions in the capital Beirut on April 18, 2023 amid deteriorating living conditions, as the currency plummeted to new lows against the dollar. (AFP/File photo)

Furthermore, he told Arab News: “Sunni-Shiite tensions during the Syrian war, and Christian fears of Muslim dominance, have made any discussion of Syrian refugees take the form of a toxic and violent discourse — as if anti-Syrianness is the one thing that the divided Lebanese could agree on.”

Anti-Syrian sentiments in Lebanon did not first emerge with the influx of refugees after 2011. They have far deeper historical roots. 

“Since Lebanon’s independence, Lebanese political culture has sustained a sense of superiority over the country’s Arab neighbors, mainly Palestinians and Syrians, as well as a sense of being threatened by their presence and influence,” said Al-Ghazzi.

“Following the end of the Lebanese civil war, the hegemony of the Syrian regime in Lebanon exacerbated an anti-Syrianness that often took the shape of discrimination against Syrian laborers.”

Tens of thousands of Lebanese citizens pack Martyrs Square in downtown Beirut on March 14, 2005, to press demands for justice for assassinated former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and for an end to Syrian military domination of Lebanon. (AFP/File photo)

However, Al-Ghazzi believes “this renewed racism cannot be separated from the rise of fascism and anti-immigrant sentiment in the West that gives legitimacy to nationalist chauvinism on a global scale.

“Sadly, it is marginalized and vulnerable Syrians who are paying the price of this politics. In Lebanon, they face daily acts of discrimination, humiliation and violence as they have to confront bleak prospects whether they stay in Lebanon, attempt illegal migration to Europe, or go to Syria.”

The arrival of Syrian refugees over the past decade has placed a burden on Lebanon’s already stretched services and infrastructure.

Lebanon hosts the greatest number of refugees per capita of any country in the world, according to Lisa Bou Khaled, spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, in Lebanon.

“UNHCR fully recognizes the impact this is having on the country, notably while it is facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history, pushing the most vulnerable to the brink,” she told Arab News.

Likewise, Shaar of the Newlines Institute said: “Lebanon’s economy is actually struggling, and yet the number of Syrians is on the rise — just from natural increases. So, the problem that Lebanon faces is real.”

He stressed the need for “a systemic solution to this crisis — a concerted effort to actually address it because otherwise, my main worry is that there will be more xenophobic rhetoric and attacks against Syrians.”

In the last five years, Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value, according to the World Bank. The spillover from the ongoing war in Gaza has also dealt a major blow to the country’s stability.

AFP infographic showing the extent of the depreciation of the Lebanese lira as of early 2021. A recent report of the World Bank says Lebanon’s currency has lost more than 98 percent of its value in the last five years. 

To make matters worse, funding for UN agencies to assist displaced communities is drying up fast amid the world’s multiple, overlapping humanitarian emergencies. 

According to Bou Khaled, “in 2024, UNHCR and the World Food Programme are able to assist 88,000 fewer refugee families than in 2023 with cash and food assistance, reflecting a 32 percent decrease in the number of beneficiaries.”

Syrian refugees in Lebanon are among the most vulnerable populations, with approximately 90 percent of households living in extreme poverty and 80 percent lacking legal residency.

In this picture taken on June 13, 2023, Syrian children play between tents at a refugee camp in Saadnayel in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (AFP)

Jasmin Lilian Diab, director of the Institute for Migration Studies at the Lebanese American University, said that “depriving Syrian refugees of proper documentation not only violates their fundamental human rights but also exacerbates their vulnerability.

“Without legal status, refugees face barriers accessing essential services such as healthcare, education, and employment, further marginalizing them within Lebanese society,” she told Arab News.

“This lack of documentation also increases the risk of exploitation, abuse, and detention, leaving refugees without legal recourse or protection. More recently, this has made them increasingly vulnerable to deportation amid ongoing raids and crackdowns.”

For Bou Khaled of UNHCR, housing is also a major concern. “More than half of the Syrian population (52 percent) live in dangerous, sub-standard or overcrowded shelters with the worst/most dangerous conditions reported in Mount Lebanon, (the) south and Beirut,” she said.

Syrian refugees salvage belongings from the wreckage of their shelters at a camp set on fire overnight in the northern Lebanese town of Bhanine on December 27, 2020, following a fight between members of the camp and a local Lebanese family. (AFP/File photo)

In March, a huge fire broke out in a Syrian refugee camp in Wadi Al-Arnab in the northeastern town of Arsal. The inferno, reportedly caused by an electrical fault, devoured more than 36 makeshift tents.

The fire was only the latest in a series of similar incidents to befall this vulnerable population. A similar blaze occurred in Hanine in Bint Jbeil District during a heatwave in July 2023, while another broke out in October 2022, reducing 93 tents to ashes.

Those living in rented accommodation are hardly better off. Average monthly rents in Lebanese pounds have “increased by 553 percent in 2023; from LBP 863,000 in 2022 to over 5.6 million LBP in 2023,” said Bou Khaled.

For Syrian refugees, unable to live under these circumstances but too frightened to return home, where they might face arrest, persecution, or conscription by the regime or one of the country’s armed factions, the most practical way out seems to be onward migration.

Displaced Syrians leave Lebanon towards Syrian territory through the Wadi Hamid crossing in Arsal on October 26, 2022. (AFP/File photo)

“UNHCR does not hinder the return of refugees to Syria,” said Bou Khaled. The UN agency “is also actively working to support durable solutions for Syrian refugees, including resettlement to third countries, and return to Syria.”

She added: “Resettlement allows responsibility sharing and show of solidarity with host countries like Lebanon, supporting large refugee populations.” This, however, “depends on quotas UNHCR receives by resettlement countries.

“Overall, since 2011 and up to the end of 2023, about 100,000 refugees have been resettled from Lebanon to third countries. In 2023, there was a 9.25-percent increase in resettlement departures when compared to 2022, and the highest number recorded since 2017.”

For many Syrians in Lebanon, onward migration through legal routes is out of reach. Hundreds have instead resorted to making the dangerous sea journey to the EU’s easternmost state, Cyprus, which is a mere 160 km from Lebanon.

Caption

Earlier this month, Cyprus expressed concern over the sudden surge in arrivals of Syrian refugees from Lebanon. With more than 600 Syrians crossing in small boats, the island’s reception capacity has reached breaking point, Reuters reported.

Shaar suspects “the number will only increase going forward as the situation becomes worse and worse” in Lebanon.

Diab of the Institute for Migration Studies at LAU said that “while sea journeys to Europe may seem like the only option for some Syrian refugees in Lebanon, safe alternatives do exist in theory — albeit a much slower process that many refugees cannot afford to wait for.”
 

 


Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
Updated 17 April 2024
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Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues

Kings of Jordan, Bahrain discuss Arab cooperation on regional issues
  • The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa met in Aqaba on Wednesday to discuss Arab solidarity and coordination, the Jordan News Agency reported.

The meeting highlighted the importance of the upcoming Arab League Summit, which opens in the Bahraini capital Manama on May 16, in the light of the challenges now facing the region.

King Abdullah praised Bahrain's efforts in organizing the event.

At the meeting, which was also attended by Jordan’s Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, the leaders emphasized the strong ties between Jordan and Bahrain and expressed their commitment to further cooperation and economic integration.

King Hamad commended Jordan for its role in promoting peace in the region and its support for Arab and Islamic causes, especially the Palestinian issue.

The leaders stressed the urgent need for international intervention to achieve a ceasefire agreement in Gaza and called on the UN Security Council to take immediate action to protect civilians, ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and prevent the conflict from escalating.

They also voiced their opposition to any actions that might widen the conflict, including the Israeli ground offensive in Rafah or the displacement of Palestinians.
 


Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike
Updated 17 April 2024
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Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

Thousands of frozen Gaza IVF embryos destroyed by Israeli strike

GAZA: When an Israeli shell struck Gaza’s largest fertility clinic in December, the explosion blasted the lids off five liquid nitrogen tanks stored in a corner of the embryology unit.

As the ultra-cold liquid evaporated, the temperature inside the tanks rose, destroying more than 4,000 embryos plus 1,000 more specimens of sperm and unfertilized eggs stored at Gaza City’s Al Basma IVF Center.

The impact of that single explosion was far-reaching — an example of the unseen toll Israel’s six-and-a-half-month-old assault has had on the 2.3 million people of Gaza.

The embryos in those tanks were the last hope for hundreds of Palestinian couples facing infertility.

“We know deeply what these 5,000 lives, or potential lives, meant for the parents, either for the future or for the past,” said Bahaeldeen Ghalayini, 73, the Cambridge-trained obstetrician and gynecologist who established the clinic in 1997.

At least half of the couples — those who can no longer produce sperm or eggs to make viable embryos — will not have another chance to get pregnant, he said.

“My heart is divided into a million pieces,” he said.

Asked on Wednesday about the incident, the Israeli military’s press desk said it was looking into the reports. Israel denies intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure and has accused Hamas fighters of operating from medical facilities, which Hamas denies.

Three years of fertility treatment was a psychological roller coaster for Seba Jaafarawi. The retrieval of eggs from her ovaries was painful, the hormone injections had strong side-effects and the sadness when two attempted pregnancies failed seemed unbearable.

Jaafarawi, 32, and her husband could not get pregnant naturally and turned to in vitro fertilization, which is widely available in Gaza.

Large families are common in the enclave, where nearly half the population is under 18 and the fertility rate is high at 3.38 births per woman, according to the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics. Britain’s fertility rate is 1.63 births per woman.

Despite Gaza’s poverty, couples facing infertility pursue IVF, some selling TVs and jewelry to pay the fees, Al Ghalayini said.

At least nine clinics in Gaza performed IVF, where eggs are collected from a woman’s ovaries and fertilized by sperm in a lab. The fertilized eggs, called embryos, are often frozen until the optimal time for transfer to a woman’s uterus. Most frozen embryos in Gaza were stored at the Al Basma center.

In September, Jaafarawi became pregnant, her first successful IVF attempt.

“I did not even have time to celebrate the news,” she said.

Two days before her first scheduled ultrasound scan, Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel vowed to destroy Hamas and launched an all-out assault that has since killed more than 33,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities.

Jaafarawi worried: “How would I complete my pregnancy? What would happen to me and what would happen to the ones inside my womb?“

Her ultrasound never happened and Ghalayini closed his clinic, where an additional five of Jaafarawi’s embryos were stored.

As the Israeli attacks intensified, Mohammed Ajjour, Al Basma’s chief embryologist, started to worry about liquid nitrogen levels in the five specimen tanks. Top ups were needed every month or so to keep the temperature below -180C in each tank, which operate independent of electricity.

After the war began, Ajjour managed to procure one delivery of liquid nitrogen, but Israel cut electricity and fuel to Gaza, and most suppliers closed.

At the end of October, Israeli tanks rolled into Gaza and soldiers closed in on the streets around the IVF center. It became too dangerous for Ajjour to check the tanks.

Jaafarawi knew she should rest to keep her fragile pregnancy safe, but hazards were everywhere: she climbed six flights of stairs to her apartment because the elevator stopped working; A bomb leveled the building next door and blasted out windows in her flat; food and water became scarce.

Instead of resting, she worried.

“I got very scared and there were signs that I would lose (the pregnancy),” she said.

Jaafarawi bled a little bit after she and her husband left home and moved south to Khan Younis. The bleeding subsided, but her fear did not.

They crossed into Egypt on Nov. 12 and in Cairo, her first ultrasound showed she was pregnant with twins and they were alive.

But after a few days, she experienced painful cramps, bleeding and a sudden shift in her belly. She made it to hospital, but the miscarriage had already begun.