The level of death and destruction in Gaza is “unparalleled”, Qatar’s foreign ministry has said, warning that while Friday’s truce is a vital step towards peace, “no amount of aid is going to be enough”.
Dr Majed Al-Ansari, Qatari foreign ministry spokesperson, urged the international community to negotiate the unfettered flow of supplies into the Strip, on the eve of the first temporary ceasefire, which Doha was integral in pushing through.
Under the terms of the deal, during a four-day pause in fighting, Hamas militants will free 50 Israeli women and children hostages in exchange for the release of 150 Palestinian women and teenagers in Israeli prisons.
At the same time 200 trucks packed with much-needed food, water and medical supplies will cross into Gaza each day. But this will not be enough to address the scale of the damage, Dr al-Ansari said.
“The UN is reporting the death toll to be over 15,000, all the hospitals in North Gaza are out of service. Dogs are eating the corpses of dead people on the streets of Gaza, ” he told The Independent frankly.
“There are unbelievable levels of destruction, death and violence that we have not seen before. This is not something that you can remedy with any number of trucks of aid that go in.”
Israel launched its most ferocious bombardment ever of Gaza, in retaliation for the 7 October brutal attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants who killed hundreds of people and took at least 240 people hostage, including a baby aged just 10 months.
The United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly called for a ceasefire and raised the alarm about the devastating conditions in Gaza, which is just 42km long and home to 2.3 million people, half of them minors.
Swathes of the north of Gaza have been razed, thousands of bodies remain trapped under the rubble. Even in the South, where Israel ordered civilians to evacuate to, water, food and medical supplies are running out.
“We are facing a humanitarian situation that is unparalleled… What has happened in Gaza is exceptional. We need a constant stream of aid to both north and south Gaza to make sure that people can stay alive,” Dr al-Ansari said.
“As an international community we need to make sure just bringing in aid doesn’t alleviate the responsibility from our shoulder,” he added.
Fighting in Gaza raged in the lead up to the truce with Israel military telling reporters that until the truce begins it is “business as usual” and that fighting could even “intensify” in the build up.
Israeli troops hold much of northern Gaza and say they have dismantled tunnels and much of Hamas’ infrastructure there. On Wednesday its soldiers said they had revealed what they claimed is a major Hamas hideout in a tunnel beneath Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical centre.
Hamas and separately medics have repeatedly denied using the complex – which has sheltered thousands of displaced civilians – as a military base.
On Thursday the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Shifa’s director Mohammed Abu Selmia, and other medical officials were arrested while accompanying a World Health Organisation convoy heading south with wounded.
Ashraf al-Qudra, health ministry spokesperson, said that soldiers used “extreme violence” against medical staff, the wounded and the sick.Israel confirmed that it had apprehended Mr Abu Selmia, and transferred him for questioning about allegations that Shifa under his management served as a Hamas command and control centre.
The Palestinian health ministry said that Israel had also ordered the full evacuation of the Indonesian hospital – also in Gaza city – but 220 patients were still left without water, medicine or food. “Whoever tries to leave the hospital will be targeted with drones,” Dr Munir al-Borsh, a health ministry official.
The Israeli military denied ordering the evacuation of the Indonesian hospital. “All we can do is ask, we don’t give orders,” said Lt.Col Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman.
Fighting has raged outside the hospital for days, and hundreds of people have already been evacuated to the south. In Gaza civilians told The Independent they were anxious about the ceasefire deal collapsing before it even starts as the fighting has intensified.
“The hours before a truce are always the worst,” one young man said.