It's the people in Gaza who need respite

Thousands of Israeli soldiers are to be withdrawn for rest and a return to civilian life while the situation in Palestine grows bleaker

A Palestinian mother mourns outside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. EPA
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A new year has brought no respite to the people of Gaza. The death toll from Israel's ground invasion and aerial bombardment of the Palestinian enclave has pushed on. At least 22,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes in the past three months, the highest loss of Palestinian lives since the Nakba in 1948.

More than half of Gaza's homes have been destroyed or damaged. There are shortages of electricity and gas for cooking. Queues for food are long and drinking water is scarce. For the 2.3 million people in Gaza, 85 per cent of whom are now internally displaced, there is inadequate aid coming in but grief is plentiful.

Although it continues to reject calls for a ceasefire and insists the war will continue for "several more months", on Sunday Israel's government announced a new direction for its military strategy, beginning the withdrawal of thousands of Israeli troops for "rest and training". This will allow many soldiers to return – albeit temporarily – to civilian life. A key driver is the toll the war is having on the Israeli economy, with most working-age Israelis on the battlefield. Of course, if anyone is exhausted and truly in need of a return to "civilian life" after three months of violence, it is the Palestinian civilians themselves.

"The war has dismissed us," Nagham Mohanna, a reporter for The National in Gaza, wrote in these pages. The suffering is not limited to Gaza. Last year, violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank was the worst it has ever been, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. The Israeli army is carrying out widespread raids and arrests in the West Bank. What is transpiring in Gaza has taken the shape of a public health tragedy. The combination of displaced Gazans and overcrowded health facilities is unleashing another set of problems. The World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said he is very concerned about the growing threat of infectious diseases in the Gaza Strip. With little clean water, the Strip has been reduced to a breeding ground for epidemics.

This is especially true among children, the elderly and the immune-compromised. About 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza are suffering from malnutrition and health complications. More than 40 per cent of the population is at risk of famine. Donors have sent aid. The UAE, for example, has distributed aid to Palestinians, set up a field hospital and water desalination plant. But Palestinians require more, and for a more sustained period of time. While the Israeli government has repeatedly spoken about safe zones for families to flee to, such statements are callous. There are no zones for such a vast number of people that can reasonably be considered safe. The shortages are stark and facilities lack proper sanitation or trained medical staff with medicine and equipment. Basic needs that any human needs to stay healthy and alive are sorely lacking. Unicef has delivered at least 600,000 doses of vaccines, but even that number is not nearly enough. The international community must renew pressure on Israel to declare a ceasefire. The US, Israel's chief supporter on the international stage, must realise that the continued onslaught is neither sustainable nor conscionable. But in the absence of that, the world must come together to ensure that there are serious efforts to at least help mitigate the healthcare disaster worsening, amid the threat of famine, in Gaza.

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Published: January 03, 2024, 3:00 AM
Updated: January 08, 2024, 12:10 PM