GENEVA/JERUSALEM/BERLIN: Fuel shortages and worsening sanitation in the Gaza Strip are shaping up to be the perfect storm for tragedy through the spread of disease, the UN warned on Tuesday.
UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, said there was a serious threat of a mass disease outbreak in the besieged Palestinian territory.
“Without enough fuel, we will see the collapse of sanitation services. So we have then, on top of the mortars and the bombs, a perfect storm for the spread of disease.
“It’s a perfect storm for tragedy,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told a press briefing in Geneva.
“We have a desperate lack of water, fecal matter strewn across densely populated settlements, an unacceptable lack of latrines, and severe, severe restraints on hand-washing, personal hygiene and cleaning.”
Speaking via video-link from Cairo, Elder said the potential for wider loss of life in Gaza was being significantly exacerbated because an estimated 800,000 children in the enclave are displaced from their homes.
“If children’s access to water and sanitation in Gaza continues to be restricted and insufficient, we will see a tragic yet entirely avoidable surge in the number of children dying,” said Elder.
“It’s also important to note it’s starting to rain in Gaza. Now combined, children face a serious threat of mass disease outbreak. This, of course, would be lethal.”
Hamas gunmen stormed across the border from Gaza into Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking around 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.
In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in Gaza, killing more than 13,300 Palestinians, thousands of them children, according to the territory’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.
Supplies of water, electricity, fuel and food were cut off to the impoverished and densely populated territory in the aftermath of the Hamas attacks.
Elder called for the release of 30 or so children being held hostage “somewhere in this hellscape,” saying their fear and torment “has toend.”
UNICEF is particularly concerned about the risk of a cholera outbreak in the Gaza Strip, fearing an exponential rise in child deaths if an outbreak was to strike.
Meanwhile, Israeli police confirmed they had arrested two Gazans, one Hamas militant, found hiding in southern Israel after infiltrating the area during the Oct. 7 attacks.
The detentions, in early November, were first reported by Israeli media with the details confirmed by a spokesman for the border police.
He said the pair were arrested in Rahat, a town in southern Israel mostly populated by Bedouin
Arabs, following an operation by an undercover border police unit. The town lies about 30 km from the Gaza border. Both were unarmed and found in an empty house.
One was a Hamas militant while the other was a Gaza resident. Both were taken for investigation.
In a separate statement, Israeli police said they had found an anti-helicopter missile and other weapons which had been “taken from combat zones.”
Police and explosives experts have been trying “to locate weapons and explosive devices that were left in different areas of fighting by Hamas militants and taken by civilians,” the statement said. Following specific intelligence, they found weapons “including an anti-helicopter missile launcher, a Kalashnikov rifle, cartridges and ammo” in the Eshkol region that flanks the Gaza border.
Germany backs Israel
Germany’s interior minister urged Muslim groups in the country to explicitly condemn the Oct. 7 attacks and to voice solidarity with Israel. The nation is home to about 5.5 million Muslims, making up the second biggest religious group.
“I expect the Muslim organizations to clearly position themselves and uphold their responsibilities in society,” minister Nancy Faeser said in an interview with German broadcaster ARD.
The groups need to “clearly condemn” the attack by Hamas and not just with a “yes, but,” she said. “It must be very clear. We stand by Israel’s side,” added Faeser.
Some Muslim groups have indeed “lived up to their responsibilities,” she said. “Some have not.” The voices “defending our values” must get louder, said the minister. There has not yet been a public reaction from Muslim groups.
At the same time, Faeser said at a conference of German politicians, Muslim groups and representatives of the Christian and Jewish communities that anti-Semitism allegations must not be instrumentalized for anti-Muslim sentiment. “We must not offer any space to those who declare Muslims to be the cause of all evils.
“Those who are now creating a mood against Muslims under the pretext of fighting anti-Semitism want to divide and not unite us.”