RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Communications systems in the Gaza Strip were down for a second day Friday with no fuel to power the internet and phone networks, causing aid agencies to halt cross-border deliveries of humanitarian supplies even as they warned people may soon face starvation.
Israel has been pushing deeper into Gaza City, and its troops have been searching Gaza's biggest hospital, Shifa, for traces of a Hamas command center the military alleges was located under the building. They have shown what they said were a tunnel entrance and weapons found in a truck inside the compound but not yet any evidence of the command center, which Hamas and Shifa staff deny existed.
The war, now in its sixth week, was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which the militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured some 240 men, women and children.
Gaza is now receiving only 10% of its needed food supplies daily, and dehydration and malnutrition are growing with nearly all of the 2.3 million people in the territory needing food, said Abeer Etefa, a Mideast regional spokeswoman for the United Nations' World Food Program.
“People are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” she said from Cairo.
With few trucks entering Gaza and no fuel to distribute the food “there is no way to meet the current hunger needs,” she said Thursday.
“The existing food systems in Gaza are basically collapsing.”
The breakdown of the communications network, which is crucial for coordinating aid deliveries, meant a further worsening of the situation. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, or UNRWA, said no aid deliveries would be able to enter southern Gaza from Egypt on Friday.
“We have seen fuel and food and water and humanitarian assistance being used as a weapon of war,” said agency spokeswoman Juliette Touma.
Fuel is needed for generators that run emergency communication systems, hospitals, desalination plants and other critical infrastructure in Gaza.
Israel has barred fuel shipments into Gaza since the beginning of the war, but permitted a limited shipment to UNRWA earlier this week for trucks delivering food after the agency's fuel reservoir ran dry.
Touma said that is “outrageous that humanitarian agencies are reduced to begging for fuel.”
Following the surprise attack by Hamas, Israel responded with a weekslong air campaign and a ground invasion of northern Gaza, vowing to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
On Friday, the military said it had found the body of another hostage taken by Hamas, identifying her as a soldier, Cpl. Noa Marciano. Like the body of another hostage found Thursday, 65-year-old Yehudit Weiss, Marciano's corpse was recovered in a building adjacent to Shifa, the military said.
Four hostages taken in the initial Hamas attack have now been confirmed dead, while four others have been freed and one rescued.
More than 11,470 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The official count does not differentiate between civilian and militant deaths, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
Israel’s troops stormed into Shifa on Wednesday, and have been searching the complex. The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the troops searched underground levels of the hospital Thursday and detained technicians who run its equipment.
Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital, which has multiple buildings over an area of several city blocks. So far, it has mainly shown photos and video of weapons caches which it says its soldiers found in the hospital.
On Thursday, the military released video of a hole in the hospital courtyard it said was a tunnel entrance. It also showed several assault rifles and RPGs, grenades, ammunition clips and utility vests laid out on a blanket that it said were found in a pickup truck in the courtyard. The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
For years, Israel has depicted the hospital as the site of a major Hamas headquarters, and in recent weeks it released satellite maps that specified particular buildings as a command center or as housing underground complexes. It released a computer animation portraying a subterranean network of passageways and rooms filled with weapons and fuel barrels. The U.S. has said it has intelligence to support Israeli claims.
The allegations are part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields across the Gaza Strip, which Israeli officials say is the reason for the large numbers of civilian casualties during weeks of bombardment.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have expressed their support for a continued Israeli offensive, despite mounting international calls for a cease-fire, while calling for everything possible to be done to protect civilians.
Israeli forces continued operating overnight into Friday in the northern Gaza Strip, and has said it is now consolidating its control of the area.
“We are close to dismantling the military system that was present in the northern Gaza Strip," Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi said Thursday.
He added that while “there remains work to be completed” in the north, more and more places would be targeted in the fight against Hamas, "systematically eliminating commanding officers and eliminating operatives, and eradicating the infrastructure.”
Israeli forces dropped leaflets Wednesday afternoon telling Palestinians in areas east of the southern town of Khan Younis to evacuate. Similar leaflets were dropped over northern Gaza for weeks ahead of the ground invasion.
Most of Gaza’s population is crowded into southern Gaza, including hundreds of thousands who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate to the north to get out of the way of its ground offensive. Some 1.5 million people driven from their homes have packed into U.N. shelters or houses with other families.
If the assault moves into the south, it is not clear where refugees would go, as Egypt refuses to allow a mass transfer onto its soil. The Israeli military has called on people to move to a “safe zone” in Mawasi, a town on the Mediterranean coast a few square kilometers (square miles) in size, where humanitarian aid could be delivered.
The heads of 18 U.N. agencies and international charities on Thursday rejected the proposed safe zone, saying that concentrating civilians in one area while hostilities continue was too dangerous. They called for a cease-fire and unimpeded entry of humanitarian aid and fuel for Gaza’s population.
Mroue reported from Beirut, and Rising reported from Bangkok. Edith Lederer contributed to this story from New York.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.