Gaza death toll passes 25,000

UN condemns 'unprecedented' rate of civilian killings as Palestinians report being beaten by Israeli troops in UN school

People mourn as they wait to collect the bodies of friends and relatives killed in an air strike in Rafah, southern Gaza. Getty Images
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More than 25,000 people have now been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its invasion of the enclave in October, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health reported on Sunday.

At least 178 people were killed during the past 24 hours and another 300 wounded, said ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra on Sunday.

A total of 25,105 Palestinians have been killed and 62,681 have been injured since October 7, the ministry said.

The vast majority of those killed in Gaza were civilians, with an estimated 70 per cent women and children.

About 1.1 million of Gaza's 2.3 million people are thought to be children.

The UN has repeatedly condemned the "unprecedented" high civilian death toll from the war.

"Israel's military operations have spread mass destruction and killed civilians on a scale unprecedented during my time as Secretary General," UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Sunday.

"This is heartbreaking and utterly unacceptable. The Middle East is a tinderbox, we must do all we can to prevent conflict from igniting across the region," he said at the opening of a summit of the G77+China in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

Mr Guterres’ remarks at the G77+China summit come more than a month after he invoked UN Charter Article 99 over the war, representing some of his strongest condemnation of Israel’s conduct to date.

Article 99 allows the Secretary-General to “bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security.”

The US has blocked resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the UN Security Council, but non-binding ceasefire resolutions have been passed in the UN General Assembly.

Israel has rejected calls for a ceasefire and vowed to eliminate the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which prompted the war with a deadly attack on southern Israel that killed about 1,200 Israelis.

Over the course of the war, the Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but it accuses Hamas of operating in densely populated areas and using civilians as human shields, a charge the group denies.

Israel's limited progress

A report on Sunday suggested that Israel has made minimal progress in its stated goal of destroying Hamas as a military force.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that only 30 per cent of Hamas's fighters have been killed since October 7, citing estimates from US intelligence.

Intelligence agencies believe the militant group has enough weapons and fighters to continue battling Israel for months, it added, contradicting Israeli claims it is successfully "eradicating" Hamas in Gaza.

According to the report, the US estimates between 10,500 and 11,700 Hamas fighters have been wounded, much lower than Israel's figures of 16,000.

The US estimate was drawn from intercepted communications, analysis of the ruins in Gaza, drone surveillance of the territory and intelligence provided by Israel.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed that Israel will continue to fight the war until Hamas is destroyed.

He also refused to accept that the two-state solution, with an independent Palestinian state existing next to Israel, was an option to end the conflict in the long term.

Mr Netanyahu's office said that in talks with US President Joe Biden, the Israeli Prime Minister "reiterated his policy that after Hamas is destroyed Israel must retain security control over Gaza to ensure that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel, a requirement that contradicts the demand for Palestinian sovereignty".

The UN Secretary General criticised this position in his remarks from Kampala, and said denying Palestinians the right to statehood "would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security".

Palestinians 'beaten' in schools

As Israel presses on with its military campaign, Palestinians accused Israeli troops of beating and arresting them in UN schools.

“What I experienced was beyond imagination,” said Mohammed Hajaj, who was arrested by Israeli forces after they occupied a UN school in Gaza city last week.

He was one of dozens arrested at Remal School in the Tal Al Hawa neighbourhood on Saturday.

“For three days, Israeli forces surrounded us as we were seeking refuge inside the school, they arrested all the men who were inside," Mr Hajaj told The National on Sunday.

"They interrogated me, asked about people I don’t know and they beat me severely. After that, they left us and instructed us to go to Rafah city."

An estimated 1.9 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes during the invasion. Many of the residents of northern Gaza and Gaza city were forced to move south towards Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Mr Hajaj said he ran for 5km along the coastal Al Rasheed Road after the Israelis released him, not stopping until he reached Deir Al Balah in central Gaza. There he found his family staying in another UN-supported school.

His wife was among the people who were asked to leave the school in Gaza city and flee to the south.

"We were inside the school and couldn't move for three days, unable to leave the classroom or go to the bathroom,” said Ms Hajaj.

"They asked us to leave the school, so we were surrounded by a number of soldiers outside the school. They instructed women to separate from men."

Ms Hajaj told The National that she walked south with her children, where they were subjected to body searches and had all of their personal belongings taken.

"It was the worst day of my life. I didn't know where to go and eventually we reached a school in Deir Al Balah,” she said.

The UN has repeatedly warned its shelters, which were already struggling before the war, are unable to cope with the vast influx of displaced Palestinians.

UN officials say about one in four people in Gaza are starving, as nowhere near the required amount of aid has been able to enter the enclave since the start of the war.

Updated: January 22, 2024, 7:45 AM