Palestinians inspect a destroyed building

Palestinians inspect a destroyed building after an Israeli airstrike on November 8, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

(Photo: Mohammad Abu Elsebah/picture alliance via Getty Images)

UN Humanitarian Office Says Northern Gaza Is 'Hell on Earth' as Death Toll Climbs to 11,000

"It is a life of fear by day and darkness at night and what do you tell your children in such a situation, it's almost unimaginable—that the fire they see in the sky is out to kill them?" said a spokesperson for the United Nations.

As hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remained in northern Gaza, where the enclave's largest hospital was among the healthcare facilities being bombed by Israeli forces early Friday, a spokesperson for the United Nations humanitarian agency said the region now resembles "hell on Earth" due to a lack of aid and Israel's relentless bombardment.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said Friday that the crossing at Rafah in southern Gaza has mainly allowed only for movement to and from Egypt by pedestrians rather than trucks. Only 65 aid trucks entered Gaza on Wednesday—a fraction of the hundreds of vehicles that brought aid to the blockaded territory on a daily basis before Israel's onslaught—as well as seven ambulances.

Those vehicles, however, cannot reach northern Gaza amid Israel's constant airstrikes, which have damaged more than half of the enclave's housing units as well as numerous road networks.

"We cannot drive to the north at the current point, which is of course deeply frustrating because we know there are several hundred thousand people who remain in the north," said OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke. "If there is a hell on Earth today, its name is northern Gaza."

The death toll in Gaza passed 11,000 on Friday, with at least 4,412 children among those killed by Israeli forces since October 7. U.S. officials believe many more people may have been killed than have officially been reported.

Residents of Gaza City, in the northern part of the enclave, toldThe Guardian on Wednesday that they could see and hear Israeli ground forces closing in on the region, where health officials have also warned that infectious diseases are surging due to Israel's blockade affecting fuel, food, and water access.

Tens of thousands of people walked southward from Gaza City and other northern towns this week, following evacuation orders from Israeli military officials, who have agreed to a four-hour daily window during which they claim civilians will be guaranteed safe passage.

As The New York Times reported Wednesday, however, people have reported being fired at by Israeli tanks as they try to reach southern Gaza on foot.

Gaza City-based Al Jazeera correspondent Youmna ElSayed said last week that she has attempted to join other families in leaving several times, but "every time Israel military opens fire on the civilian cars trying to evacuate."

On Thursday, ElSayed told AJ+ about her experience telling her children that their family is likely to be killed in a bombing.

During Israeli attacks prior to the current war, ElSayed said, "we would tell our children, 'Don't worry, it's going to be okay, it's going to end soon... But now, we literally tell them every night, 'Don't worry, we're together, we're sticking together. If we die, we die together."

"It is a life of fear by day and darkness at night and what do you tell your children in such a situation, it's almost unimaginable—that the fire they see in the sky is out to kill them?" said Laerke on Friday.

While U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said this week that the "collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians" fits the definition of war crimes, the U.S. State Department said Washington has "not come to that conclusion."

With the Biden administration's support, Israel's bombardment has forcibly displaced 70% of the Gaza Strip's 2.3 million residents in addition to killing more than 11,000 people. As Common Dreams reported Friday, the World Health Organization has confirmed hospitals in northern Gaza, where thousands of people are being treated for injuries and thousands more are seeking shelter, are "coming under bombardment."

Under international humanitarian law, collective punishment of civilians, forced displacement, and attacks on hospitals and medical personnel are illegal.

Norwegian physician Dr. Mads Gilbert, who has volunteered at al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza where the obstetrics department was hit by an airstrike on Friday, called the scene at the hospital "horrific."

"They will shoot at anything that they consider Palestinian: Infrastructure, schools, churches, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, civilians," said Gilbert. "Would this have been accepted by Europe and the U.S. if these had been hospitals caring for white people in Europe? Never ever. This is racist politics, it's utterly disgusting and I think we have to consider this as the greatest moral collapse in Western politics in my generation."

"It keeps going, and it's not hell," he added. "Gaza 2023 makes hell look like a tea party."

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