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NAJIB JOBAIN, BASSEM MROUE and DAVID RISING
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s national security adviser says the country’s War Cabinet has agreed to allow two tanker trucks of fuel to enter the Gaza Strip each day — a quantity he described as “very minimal.”
Speaking at a news conference Friday, Tzachi Hanegbi said the fuel would be allowed for Gaza’s communications system and water and sewage services. He said the aim is to prevent the spread of disease without disrupting Israel’s ability to continue its war against the Hamas militant group.
Hanegbi said the fuel amounted to roughly 2% to 4% of the normal quantities of fuel that entered Gaza before the war erupted on Oct. 7.
The United Nations was forced to stop deliveries of food and other necessities to Gaza on Friday and warned of the growing possibility of widespread starvation after internet and telephone services collapsed in the besieged enclave because of a lack of fuel.
Israeli officials said the country’s War Cabinet approved for the first time allowing small, daily shipments of fuel into Gaza. Two container trucks a day of fuel would be let in for the U.N. to use in supporting water and sewage infrastructure, they said, speaking on condition of anonymity pending an official announcement.
Israel has barred entry to fuel since the start of the war, saying it would be diverted by Hamas for military means. It has also barred food, water and other supplies except for a trickle of aid from Egypt that aid workers say falls far short of what’s needed.
It was not clear if the fuel shipments could be used for other purposes, including powering the internet and phone network. The communications blackout, now in its second day, largely cuts off Gaza’s 2.3 million people from one another and the outside world — and paralyzes the coordination of aid, which humanitarian groups were already struggling to deliver because of the fuel shortage.
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, was unable to bring in its aid convoy on Friday, said spokesperson Juliette Touma. With no immediate prospect for Israel allowing in more fuel, it was unclear how long the situation would continue.
“An extended blackout means an extended suspension of our humanitarian operations in the Gaza Strip,” Touma told The Associated Press.
Israeli forces, meanwhile, have signaled they could expand their offensive toward Gaza’s south even while pressing operations in the north. Troops have been searching the territory’s biggest hospital for traces of a Hamas command center the military alleges was located under the building.
They have shown what they said were a tunnel entrance and weapons found inside the compound but not yet any evidence of the command center, which Hamas and staff at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital deny existed.
The war, now in its sixth week, was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which the militants killed more than 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured some 240 men, women and children.
On Friday, the military said it found the body of another hostage, identifying her as Cpl. Noa Marciano. Marciano’s body was recovered in a building adjacent to Shifa, the military said, like that of another hostage found Thursday, Yehudit Weiss.
More than 11,400 Palestinians have been killed in the war, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and militants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
AID DRIES UP
Since the war began, Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day, and dehydration and malnutrition are growing with nearly all residents in need of food, said Abeer Etefa, a Mideast regional spokeswoman for the U.N.’s World Food Program.
“People are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” she said Thursday from Cairo.
The breakdown of the communications network only worsened the situation since it’s needed for electricity generators that run everything from communication systems to water treatment plants and sewage pumps.
Israel has barred fuel shipments into Gaza since the beginning of the war, but permitted a limited shipment to UNRWA earlier this week for trucks delivering food after the agency’s fuel reservoir ran dry.
CONDITIONS AT SHIFA
Speaking from Shifa Hospital on Friday, Dr. Ahmad Mukhalalti told Al-Jazeera television that there was no electricity to run ventilators to provide ICU patients with oxygen, and that of the 36 infants there, most are suffering from severe diarrhea because there is no clean water to give them.
He added that Israeli troops, who stormed into the hospital on Wednesday, had brought food and bottled water, but that it had not been enough for the number of people in the hospital.
The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said the troops searched underground levels of the hospital Thursday and detained technicians who run its equipment.
Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital, which has multiple buildings over an area of several city blocks. The U.S. has said it has intelligence to support the claims.
So far, Israel has mainly shown photos and video of weapons caches that it says its soldiers found in the hospital.
On Thursday, the military released video of a hole in the hospital courtyard it said was a tunnel entrance. It also showed several assault rifles and RPGs, grenades, and ammunition clips laid out on a blanket that it said were found in a pickup truck in the courtyard. The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
The allegations are part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields across the Gaza Strip, contending that is the reason for the large numbers of civilian casualties during weeks of bombardment.