Fuel shortages in the Gaza Strip have grown so dire that the U.N. agency that has helped feed, school and shelter Palestinians there for decades said Wednesday that it might have start shutting down operations.
“We are going to have to make some very tough decisions,” Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for the agency, said as Israel reported conducting “wide-scale” airstrikes and renewed its warning to Gazans to flee south ahead of a possible invasion.
The organization, UNRWA, has offered a lifeline for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who have been displaced and injured by Israeli strikes. Israel began bombarding Gaza after Hamas, the armed outfit that rules it, staged a brutal cross-border attack on Oct. 7.
U.N. agencies have been working to distribute the limited food, water and medicine that have been trucked into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt since Saturday. But fuel is not reaching the territory’s only electric power plant or backup generators, crippling hospitals and other critically needed services.
But Israel has refused to allow the aid convoys to carry fuel into Gaza, saying it could aid the Hamas war effort. It has also claimed that the militant group has large stockpiles of fuel that it could share with desperate civilians, if it chose. Hamas denies this.
The Palestine Red Crescent said Wednesday that it had enough fuel to keep its hospital and ambulances in Gaza running for up to one and a half more days.
“We used 80 percent of our strategic reserves,” said Nebal Farsakh, its spokeswoman. “Soon we will have nothing. People are going to start dying by themselves because of the shutdown of the health care system.”
The next 24 hours might prove decisive, Ms. Touma said in a phone interview from Jerusalem. If more fuel does not get in, she said, “we are going to have to start choosing where to send the aid, and how often.”
The group said it might also start rationing fuel for nearly 150 shelters at which 600,000 displaced Palestinians have sought safety, as well as at health care clinics, which on Tuesday had more than 4,000 patient visits.
With just eight aid trucks making it into Gaza overnight and hospitals increasingly overwhelmed, the humanitarian crisis in the besieged enclave deepened on Wednesday.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said the death toll from recent Israeli strikes had risen to more than 6,500 people. Its figures could not be independently verified. The Hamas-led terrorist attack in southern Egypt on Oct. 7 killed more than 1,400 people and captured more than 200 hostages who were taken back to Gaza, according to the Israeli government.
The Israeli military said its latest airstrike targets included a Hamas group responsible for blockades that have prevented Gazans from leaving northern Gaza.
But even as Israel calls on Gazans to flee southward for safety, it has continued to hit southern Gaza with airstrikes. And while Hamas has acknowledged encouraging civilians to defy Israel’s evacuation demand, it has denied setting up barricades.
The potential for the war to spread has remained. The Israeli military said on Wednesday that an area near the Golan Heights was targeted by attacks that originated in Syria, and that it responded with artillery fire. Israel also said its soldiers had clashed with armed Palestinians overnight in the area of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The global political reverberations also continued on Wednesday.
António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations, addressed the controversy around his comments a day earlier that Hamas’s attack on Israel “did not happen in a vacuum.”
“I am shocked by the misinterpretations by some of my statement yesterday in the Security Council — as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas,” Mr. Guterres said to reporters outside the council chamber. “This is false. It was the opposite.”
But Hamas did get a vote of support on Wednesday from the leader of Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Hamas was “not a terror organization” but a group fighting “ to protect their land and citizens.” Mr. Erdogan said he did not “excuse any acts targeting civilians, including Israeli civilians,” but condemned what he called Israeli brutality against Palestinians.
In Washington, President Biden offered another full-throated declaration of support for Israel during a news conference at the White House, saying that “Israel has the right and I would add responsibility to respond to the slaughter of their people.”
But the president said that Hamas did not represent all Palestinians, and that “Israel has to do everything in its power, as difficult as it is, to protect innocent civilians.”
The United States has pledged full support to Israel as it fights Hamas, though it has encouraged the Israelis to hold off on a ground invasion, citing the safety of the hostages, the need to deliver aid to Gaza, and concerns that Israel does not have a clear military strategy.
On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu said the Israeli military was still preparing for a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. “I will not spell out when, how, how much,” he said. “I also won’t detail all the considerations we’re taking into account, most of them totally unknown to the public.”
In a prime time address to Israels, Mr. Netanyahu indicated that he was already thinking of the political battles that lie ahead. He conceded that he would have to provide answers for how Israel was caught off guard by the stunning Hamas attack, but stopped short of explicitly taking responsibility.
“This disaster will be fully looked into,” he said. “Everyone will need to give answers — including myself. But all of this will only happen after the war.”
Reporting was contributed by Aaron Boxerman, Farnaz Fassihi, Michael D. Shear, Abu Bakr Bashir and Nick Cumming-Bruce.