RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees warned Wednesday that without immediate deliveries of fuel it will soon have to sharply cut back relief operations across the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded and hit by devastating Israeli airstrikes since Hamas militants launched an attack on Israel more than two weeks ago.
The warning came as hospitals in Gaza struggled to treat masses of wounded with dwindling resources, and health officials in the Hamas-ruled territory said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets continued striking the territory overnight into Wednesday.
The Israeli military said its strikes had killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centers, weapons storehouses and other military targets, which it has accused Hamas of hiding among Gaza’s civilian population. Gaza-based militants have been launching unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.
The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said the airstrikes killed at least 704 people between Monday and Tuesday, mostly women and children. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death tolls cited by Hamas, which says it tallies figures from hospital directors.
The death toll was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come when Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas militants.
“The Ministry of Health is run by Hamas, and I think that all needs to be factored into anything that they put out publicly.”
Israel said Tuesday it had launched 400 airstrikes over the past day, an increase from the 320 strikes the day before.
The U.N. says about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now internally displaced, with almost 600,000 crowded into U.N. shelters.
Gaza’s residents have been running out of food, water and medicine since Israel sealed off the territory following the attack on southern Israel by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction.
In recent days, Israel allowed a small number of trucks filled with aid to come over the border with Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel — needed to power hospital generators — to keep it out of Hamas’ hands.