Israel-Hamas war live: Egypt-Gaza crossing set to open for aid, says Blinken; 24 hours’ more fuel at Gaza hospitals, says UN | Israel-Hamas war

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Key events

Fourteen staff members of UNRWA, the UN agency which supports Palestinian refugees, have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza, Philippe Lazzarini, the agency’s head said at his Sunday press conference.

They were teachers, engineers, guards and psychologists, an engineer and a gynecologist.

He also said that most of the agency’s 13,000 staff in Gaza had been displaced.

My colleague Kamal lost his cousin and her entire family.

My colleague Helen and her children were pulled out of the rubble. I was so relieved to learn that they were still alive.

He also said that sanitary conditions were “just appalling”, with reports that in UNRWA’s logistics base hundreds of people are just sharing one toilet.

Old people, children, pregnant women, people with disabilities are just being deprived of their basic human dignity, and this is a total disgrace!

He said the siege of Gaza was “nothing else than collective punishment” and added:

Imposing a siege and bombarding civilian infrastructure in a densely populated area will not bring peace and security to the region.

World has ‘lost its humanity’ as Gaza ‘is being strangled’, UN agency boss says

The world has “lost its humanity”, the head of the UN’s agency supporting Palestinian refugees said late Sunday in East Jerusalem. Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, said he had called the press conference to “raise the alarm” that his colleagues in Gaza could no longer provide any humanitarian assistance in the enclave.

Gaza is being strangled and it seems that the world right now has lost its humanity.

If we look at the issue of water – we all know water is life – Gaza is running out of water, and Gaza is running out of life.

Soon, I believe, with this there will be no food or medicine either.

There is not one drop of water, not one grain of wheat, not a litre of fuel that has been allowed into the Gaza Strip for the last eight days.

Lazzarini said an “unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” was unfolding and warned “no place is safe in Gaza”.

While condemning Hamas’ attack on Israel, he said:

The answer to killing civilians cannot be to kill more civilians

A bit more from that interview with UN humanitarian coordinator Lynn Hastings, who says that the situation in Gaza is “unprecedented” and “catastrophic” and that what is happening in the enclave is “simply inhumane”:

The events of 7 October and Hamas attacks were absolute abhorrent. But this attack on Gaza, again, unprecedented, catastrophic. It really can lead nowhere for the Palestinians who live in Gaza …

It’s really about the loss of our humanity if the international community allows this to continue. What we are seeing now is simply inhumane.

She said the healthcare system in Haza had collapsed due to the lack of fuel and called for an immediate ceasefire to allow aid in to Gaza.

She also said the UN was still trying to get the Israeli military to rescind its order for more than 1 million Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, saying the order was “impossible”.

For 1 million people to leave – many of whom have absolutely no transportation, no cars, even if they have a car, there’s no fuel in Gaza any more – is impossible.

I also want to say that hospitals in the north have also been receiving notices that they should be evacuating. Again, another impossibility. People have just had surgeries. The Ministry of Health also has no capacity to move. They’ve asked the UN to help them move, we cannot do that. We also don’t have the capacity.

Israel’s trajectory ‘going to destroy Gaza’, UN coordinator warns

Israel is on course “to destroy Gaza”, Lynn Hastings, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian Territory, has warned.

She called for the unconditional and immediate release of hostages being held by Hamas, but also urged “immediate unconditional access” into Gaza for the delivery of lifesaving aid. In an interview with UN News she said that Israel should not be making the latter conditional on the former.

Israel is connecting humanitarian assistance into Gaza with the release of the hostages. Again, neither should be conditional. And what we’re seeing right now, the direction that Israel is going in, they want to destroy Hamas, but their current trajectory is going to destroy Gaza.

She also said that despite reports that Israel had turned the water back on in southern Israel, UN staff had reported that it was not flowing and that the enclave’s water would run out by Tuesday at the latest.

There’s only enough water – and this isn’t for all 2 million people – of about one litre of water today, which is well below the requirement by the World Health Organization. We are anticipating that there won’t be any more water left, if not tomorrow at the very latest by Tuesday.

Here are some of the latest pictures from Gaza sent through on the wires:

A Palestinian woman cradles the body of her grandson who was killed in an Israeli air strike on Al-Aqsa Hospital in the town of Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip on Sunday.
A Palestinian woman cradles the body of her grandson who was killed in an Israeli air strike on Al-Aqsa Hospital in the town of Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip on Sunday. Photograph: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto/Shutterstock
Palestinians carry an injured man following an Israeli strike on building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday.
Palestinians carry an injured man following an Israeli strike on building in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday. Photograph: Ismael Mohamad/UPI/Shutterstock
Children crying due to Israeli raids on Sunday in Khan Yunis, Gaza.
Children crying due to Israeli raids on Sunday in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Photograph: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images
A ball of fire and smoke rise above buildings during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday.
A ball of fire and smoke rise above buildings during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on Sunday. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

A few hours ago, Israel Defence Forces spokesperson Jonathan Conricus gave an update on the conflict in which he denied that Israel was targeting civilians in Gaza.

“We strike Hamas, we strike their infrastructure and we are hunting their commanders,” he said. “Categorically we are not trying to strike civilians.”

However he did say that traditional methods such as “roof-knocking” to warn civilians to evacuate targeted buildings could not always be used “for obvious reasons”. He also denied Israeli responsibility for a strike on a civilian convoy of evacuees on Friday in which about 70 people died.

He said no media reports of hostages held by Hamas being executed had been confirmed.

In case you missed it, my colleague Ruth Michaelson has written this explainer about the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and why Egypt has closed it.

In essence, Cairo fears that any exodus of Palestinians to its Sinai peninsula could become permanent, while Palestinians worry that Israel may not allow them back to their homes in Gaza.

Egyptian president Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi alluded to concerns about the consequences of an exodus of Palestinians from Gaza last week, saying that allowing them to settle in the Sinai, even temporarily, would be tantamount to allowing Israel to control an emptied Gaza Strip.

Egypt is also in the throes of a major economic crisis making the prospect of accepting refugees a challenging one. Egypt’s last remaining independent news outlet, Mada Masr, reported that while Cairo had rejected any suggestion of a mass displacement from Gaza into the Sinai, it was still “coming under pressure from western countries who are also offering economic incentives in an effort to come to a deal”.

To recap a little more of what Joe Biden said in his 60 Minutes interview, the US president said he believed that Hamas must be eliminated entirely but added, “there needs to be a Palestinian authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”

While he warned that it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza, asked whether it was time for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, Biden said there was “a fundamental difference” between the Israelis killed in Hamas’ attack and the Palestinians killed in the Israeli counterattack. He said:

Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust. And so I think Israel has to respond.

They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians.

Asked whether he agreed with Israel’s siege of Gaza, he replied:

I’m confident that Israel is going to act under the measure, the rules of war.

Israel ‘has no interest’ in occupying Gaza, UN ambassador says

Israel “has no interest” in occupying Gaza but will do “whatever is needed” to eliminate Hamas, the country’s UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, has told CNN.

His comment came after US President Joe Biden warned in a 60 Minutes interview that it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy the Strip, as it masses its troops on the enclave’s border in preparation for an expected ground invasion.

Erdan said:

We have no interest to occupy Gaza or to stay in Gaza, but since we are fighting for our survival and the only way, as the president [Biden] himself defined is to obliterate Hamas, so we will have to do whatever is needed to obliterate their capabilities.

Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the US, also told CNN on Sunday that Israel did not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict ends. He said:

We have no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza. We have no desire to rule over the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians.

United Nations Security Council meets on Israel and the Palestinians at U.N. headquarters in New York. February 20, 2023
United Nations Security Council meets on Israel and the Palestinians at U.N. headquarters in New York. February 20, 2023
Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters

The US embassy in Israel has posted an update on its website regarding media reports that the Rafah border crossing will open at 9am on Monday.

It does not confirm the reports but warns that the situation at the crossing between Egypt and Gaza will “remain fluid and unpredictable” and says it is unclear whether, or for how long, travellers may be allowed to pass through it. It wrote:

If you assess it to be safe, you may wish to move closer to the Rafah border crossing – there may be very little notice if the crossing opens and it may only open for a limited time.

US President Joe Biden has condemned the killing of a 6-year-old Palestinian Muslim boy in Illinois, in what has been described as a hate crime. The boy’s mother was also seriously injured in the attack at their home, in which each suffered over a dozen stab wounds.

Biden said the boy’s family were Palestinian Muslims who “came to America seeking what we all seek – a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace.”

“This horrific act of hate has no place in America,” Biden said in a statement.

A 71-year-old man named as Joseph M Czuba and identified as the landlord of the property in which the family lived has been arrested and charged with murder.

Gaza hospitals have just 24 hours of fuel left, UN says

Hospitals in Gaza only have about 24 hours of fuel left, the UN’s humanitarian office (OCHA) said in its latest update (several hours ago now). It said:

Fuel reserves at all hospitals across Gaza are expected to last for about additional 24 hours. The shutdown of backup generators would place the lives of thousands of patients at risk.

OCHA also said that heavy Israeli bombardments of Gaza, from air, land and sea, had continued “almost uninterrupted”. As of 10pm on Sunday, 455 Palestinians had been killed and 856 injured in the previous 24 hours, it said, citing the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.

It also said that “mass displacement” of Palestinians had continued, after the Israeli military told Gazans to move to the south of the enclave on Friday.

By Saturday afternoon, nearly 600,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) were hosted in the central and southern parts of Gaza alone, in increasingly dire conditions; since then, this figure has raised significantly.

Rafah border crossing set to reopen, Blinken says

The Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza is set to reopen to allow humanitarian aid in, US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said, following a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Sunday.

“Rafah will be reopened. We’re putting in place with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel, with others, a mechanism by which to get the assistance in and to get it to people who need it,” Blinken said, without giving any further specifics.

US media have reported that the crossing will reopen at 9am (0600 GMT) on Monday for several hours. Aid convoys are already queuing to get in. Some foreign passport holders are also expected to be evacuated via the crossing.

Aid convoy trucks loaded with supplies are seen at Arish City waiting for the Gaza-Egypt border to open on 15 October, 2023 in North Sinai, Egypt.
Photograph: Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

Opening summary

Hello and welcome to the Guardian’s live coverage of the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt is set to reopen, US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said, ahead of his expected return to Jerusalem on the next leg of an international round of diplomacy aimed at preventing the conflict from spreading.

Speaking after a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Blinken did not give any specifics about when the crossing would reopen, saying only that humanitarian aid would be allowed through. US media have reported that it will open at 9am for several hours. The Guardian has not been able to confirm those reports.

As the Israeli military prepares for an assault on Gaza, there are fears that the already daunting Palestinian death toll will rise and provoke an intervention by Iran or its proxies. Blinken is expected to hold a second round of talks in five days with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

In other key developments:

  • UNRWA, the UN’s agency supporting Palestinian refugees, said on Sunday that Israel’s deadly strikes on Gaza have led to an “unprecedented human catastrophe” as Gaza’s death toll rises to 2,670 with 9,600 injured. Speaking to reporters, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of UNRWA, said: “If we look at the issue of water, we all know water is life and Gaza is running out of water and Gaza is running out of life.”

  • Over 1,000 people were missing under the rubble of buildings in Gaza that have been targeted by deadly Israeli airstrikes, the Palestinian civil defence said on Sunday. In a statement, the civil defence team said many others were pulled alive out of the rubble, 24 hours after buildings were struck.

  • Gaza health officials have started to store bodies in ice-cream freezer trucks because moving them to hospitals is too risky and cemeteries are running out of space. Videos posted online showed bodies wrapped in white cloth stacked inside the empty trucks.

  • Israeli officials said they were restoring limited water supplies to southern Gaza, amid a wider water crisis, after a call between US President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

  • Reserves of fuel at all hospitals across the Gaza Strip are expected to last only about 24 more hours, the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) said on Monday. “The shutdown of backup generators would place the lives of thousands of patients at risk,” OCHA said on its website.

  • US and Israelis officials are discussing the possibility of a visit to Israel soon by Biden at the invitation of Netanyahu, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday. A potential visit by Biden would follow similar visits from other high-ranking US officials including secretary of state Antony Blinken and defense secretary Lloyd Austin. Blinken is due to return to Israel on Monday for a second round of talks with Netanyahu.

  • Biden, speaking to CBS, said he is “confident” Israel will act under the rules of war in its conflict with Palestine, and added deploying US troops is not necessary. In an interview with 60 Minutes, Biden said that while he believes Hamas must be eliminated entirely, there must be a path for a Palestinian state. And he cautioned that the threat of terrorism in the United States had increased due to unrest in the Middle East.

  • More than 600,000 Gazans have so far moved to the southern part of the Gaza strip near the Egyptian border city of al-Arish, before an expected Israeli ground offensive. International aid workers in Gaza described an unprecedented situation of “humanitarian collapse”.

  • The US has warned that the war between Israel and militant group Hamas could escalate, as American warships headed to the area amid growing clashes on the country’s northern border with Lebanon. “There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north and, of course, Iran’s involvement,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS.
    US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced deployment of a second aircraft carrier group late on Saturday, calling it a sign of “our resolve to deter any state or non-state actor seeking to escalate this war.”

  • Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, said the US would suffer “significant damages” if the war in Gaza spills over into a larger conflict, Al Jazeera reported on Sunday. “We have conveyed our message to the Zionist regime through its allies that if they do not cease their atrocities in Gaza, Iran cannot simply remain an observer,” Iranian state media cited Amir-Abdollahian as telling the network.

  • UN secretary-general António Guterres called on Hamas to release hostages without conditions and called on Israel to allow for rapid and unimpeded humanitarian aid access to Gaza. “Each one of these two objectives are valid in themselves. They should not become bargaining chips and they must be implemented because it’s the right thing to do,” Guterres said. The Middle East is on the brink of an “abyss”, he said.

  • The Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, has said that he spoke by phone to the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Sunday regarding the situation in Gaza. Maduro told Abbas that Venezuela would send 30 tons of humanitarian aid to Gaza in the next few days, Reuters reports.

  • Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the actions and policies of Islamist group Hamas do not represent Palestinian people, according to official news agency Wafa, although it later removed direct references to Hamas from its report. In a phone call with Maduro, “the president affirmed his rejection of the killing of civilians on both sides and called for the release of civilians, prisoners and detainees on both sides,” added the news agency.

  • Amnesty International has verified six videos of an attack on Salah al-Din road – a supposedly “safe” route for Palestinians feeling Gaza – that killed at least 70 people. It went on to condemn Israel’s forced evacuations of Palestinians from Gaza, saying: “Israel’s order to ‘evacuate’ is NOT compliant w/ [international humanitarian law] & must be rescinded.”

  • France has warned Iran “against any escalation or extension of the conflict” between Israel and Hamas, the French presidential office announced on Sunday. During a phone call between the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, Macron warned against any conflict spillover into Lebanon.

  • Leaders from the EU’s 27 member states have issued a statement outlining their position on the situation in the Middle East. “The European Union condemns in the strongest possible terms Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across Israel and deeply deplores the loss of lives,” the European Council said.

  • In a call with the Vatican, Israel’s foreign ministry said it expected the “Vatican to be more attentive to the suffering to Israelis.” The country’s foreign minister also called for a clear Vatican condemnation of deadly terrorism against Israelis and reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself.

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