Escalating its onslaught against Hamas, Israel hit the Gaza Strip with hundreds of airstrikes in a single day, Israel officials said Tuesday, and officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza said it was the deadliest day for Palestinians there since the conflict began.
It was not possible to independently verify the claims, but it was clear that even before Israeli soldiers have set foot in the Palestinian enclave to retaliate for Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage in Israel, a humanitarian disaster in Gaza was growing worse by the day.
If a diplomatic solution is possible, there was little sign of it Tuesday at the United Nations, where diplomats spent the day issuing futile pleas for a ceasefire and bitter denunciations.
Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, began his address to the Security Council by holding up photos of Israeli children kidnapped when Hamas gunmen and allied militants streamed into towns and military bases, shooting mostly unarmed civilians and seizing hostages. “I have to remember and never let you forget,” he said.
In a scathing address of his own to the council, the Palestinian Authority’s minister of foreign affairs, Riyad al-Maliki, accused the international community of “selectivity and double standards.” Officials in Gaza say that 5,791 people there have been killed since Oct. 7.
“Doesn’t this wholesale killing offend you?” Mr. al-Maliki demanded. Officials of Egypt and Jordan accused Israel of violating international law in its conduct of the war.
The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, tried to thread the needle. “The grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas,” he said, “and those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
Mr. Guterres did not emerge unscathed from the angry exchange, after he said that the attacks by Hamas, in which more than 1,400 people in Israel were slaughtered, “did not happen in a vacuum,” prompting the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations to demand his immediate resignation.
“It’s really unfathomable,” declared the ambassador, Gilad Erdan. “It’s truly sad that the head of an organization that arose after the Holocaust holds such horrible views.”
In Gaza, the situation appeared to be growing worse by the hour. “The situation is desperate,” the World Health Organization warned on Tuesday.
With Gaza’s power grid down and fuel for backup generators scarce, six hospitals there were forced to shut down, the W.H.O. said, and those that have managed to stay open are running out of supplies, their workers taking boxes off delivery trucks and straight into operating rooms.
Israel has tens of thousands of troops massed outside Gaza, waiting for orders to invade the territory, where some 200 Israelis seized in the Hamas raid are being held hostage. In the meantime, Israel has been pounding the enclave with airstrikes, more than 400 in the previous 24 hours alone, up from 320 a day earlier, its military said Tuesday.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said the strikes of the last 24 hours had killed at least 704 people.
The Israeli government has been under pressure to delay a ground assault to allow desperately needed provisions to get to civilians in Gaza. The United States government has also urged Israel to slow down out of concern that it has no real plan for achieving its goal of defeating Hamas, which controls the territory, once and for all.
But on Tuesday, John F. Kirby, a White House spokesman, made clear during a press briefing that the Biden administration does not support calls for a cease-fire. “A cease-fire right now really only benefits Hamas,” he said.
Israel officials say they are using the air barrage to destroy Hamas installations, many of which are well concealed within — and beneath — residential neighborhoods and commercial districts, which have been devastated in the bombardment. But the challenges that poses became even clearer on Tuesday, a day after the militants released two women kidnapped in Israel.
Speaking to reporters at a hospital in Tel Aviv, one of the women, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, described being marched through a network of subterranean tunnels under Gaza that she likened to “a spider web.” eventually arriving at a large room. In the first public account to emerge from any of the hostages, Ms. Lifshitz said she had been beaten by her kidnappers, but then had been treated relatively well in the tunnels.
About 20 of the hostages are believed to be children, and on Tuesday, family members pleaded with Hamas to release them. Some demonstrated outside U.N. headquarters in New York, while others have protested in front of Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned Israelis on Tuesday to gird themselves. “It could be a long war,” he said after meeting with the president of France, Emmanuel Macron.
For his part, the French leaders offered both support — “You are not alone,” he declared — and a note of caution.
“The fight must be without mercy,” Mr. Macron said, “but not without rules, Because we are democracies that are fighting against terrorists, democracies that respect the laws of war, democracies that do not target civilians, in Gaza or elsewhere.”
Mr. Macron later traveled to the West Bank, where violence has surged in the last two weeks, to meet with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, and planned to head to Jordan on Wednesday to meet with King Abdullah II and possibly other regional leaders.
Concern remains high that the fighting between Israel and Hamas might set off a regional conflict that could be even harder to contain. Israeli forces have also been clashing with the militant group Hezbollah, which exercises de facto control over southern Lebanon; Hezbollah, like Hamas, is backed by Iran, an avowed enemy of Israel.
In Lebanon on Tuesday, the caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, met with U.N. peacekeeping forces and Lebanese troops stationed in the south of the country, calling for peace and denouncing Israel for “repeated attacks” on Lebanese soil, according to a statement.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other U.S. officials said there might be a surge in attacks on American troops from Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria because of the Israel-Hamas war.
In Gaza, a densely populated enclave wedged between Israel, Egypt and the sea, basic life necessities remain in desperately short supply, but some aid has begun to get in.
Egypt has allowed 54 trucks through the Rafah crossing into Gaza to date, and among their loads were 477 tons of medical supplies, 291 tons of food and 87 tons of water, Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt’s State Information Service, said at a news conference on Tuesday. An additional 250 trucks were waiting to cross.
Humanitarian groups have called for still more food, water and medicine to be sent in, as well as fuel — but Israel has balked at that last demand, because it says Hamas could use fuel for military purposes.
While Israel has cut off fuel shipments to Gaza, the Israeli military contends that Hamas has stockpiled an ample supply — and has refused to share it with hospitals.
There were hints that the Israel position might change, however. Asked whether Israel would allow fuel into the Gaza Strip, Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military’s chief of staff, appeared not to rule it out.
“Fuel?” he said. “We will ensure that it is where it needs to be to treat civilians. We will not allow fuel for Hamas so it can keep fighting the citizens of Israel.”
Hospitals in Gaza are paying a heavy price for the fuel shortages, with dozens of health centers are out of commission, Palestinian officials said. A Health Ministry spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday that “the health care system has reached its worst stage in its history.”
The World Health Organization said that thousands of patients were at risk of complications or death as more shutdowns loom, including 1,000 people on dialysis, 130 premature babies and patients in intensive care or in need of surgery.