UN warns Gaza blockade could force it to sharply cut relief missions as Israeli airstrikes continue

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RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The U.N. warned on Wednesday that it is on the verge of running out of fuel in the Gaza Strip, forcing it to sharply curtail relief efforts in the territory blockaded and devastated by 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. The U.N.’s top official faced backlash from Israel after saying the Hamas massacre of Israelis on Oct. 7 that sparked the fighting did not “take place in a vacuum.”

Health officials said the death toll was soaring as Israeli jets pounded Gaza overnight into Wednesday.

The territory’s Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said more than 750 people were killed over the past 24 hours. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death toll, and it was not known if the count included any militants.

The Israeli military said its strikes killed militants and destroyed tunnels, command centers, weapons storehouses and other military targets. It accuses Hamas of magnifying the suffering of Gazan civilians by hiding its fighters among them.

Hamas and other militants have launched unrelenting rocket barrages into Israel since the conflict started.

The rising death toll in Gaza — following a reported 704 killed the day before — was unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could come if Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas.

The warning by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, over depleting fuel supplies raised alarm that the humanitarian crisis could quickly worsen.

WATCH: UN aid chief hopes to increase flow of critical supplies to Gaza

Gaza’s population has been running out of food, water and medicine, too. About 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have fled their homes, with nearly half of them crowded into U.N. shelters.

In recent days, Israel let a small number of trucks with aid enter from Egypt but barred deliveries of fuel – needed to power generators — saying it believes Hamas will take it.

UNRWA has been sharing its own fuel supplies so that trucks can distribute aid, bakeries can to feed people in shelters, water can be desalinated, and hospitals can keep incubators, life support machines and other vital equipment working.

If it continues doing all of that, fuel will run out by Thursday, so it is deciding how to ration it, UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told The Associated Press.

“Do we give for the incubators or the bakeries? Do we bump clean water, or do we send trucks to the borders?” she said. “It is an excruciating decision.”

More than half of Gaza’s primary healthcare facilities and roughly a third of its hospitals have stopped functioning, the World Health Organization said.

At Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the lack of medicine and clean water have led to “alarming” infection rates, the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said. Amputations are often required to prevent infection from spreading in the wounded, it said.

WATCH: A look at life inside Gaza amid airstrikes and worsening humanitarian crisis

One surgeon with the group described amputating half the foot of a 9-year-old boy with “slight sedation” on a hallway floor as his mother and sister watched.

Hezbollah leader meets with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials for first time since Israel-Hamas war erupted

On Wednesday evening, airstrikes leveled a large area in Gaza City’s Yarmouk neighborhood. Hamas’ Interior Ministry said at least 26 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

In the south, a strike destroyed a bakery in Deir al-Balah, witnesses said. The Hamas-run government said at least 10 people were killed. As witnesses described the attack to an AP journalist, a projectile whistled overhead followed by two bangs — another airstrike hit nearby. Men ran through rubble-strewn streets carrying the injured.

In the wreckage of about 15 houses in Khan Younis, a backhoe peeled away layers of broken concrete and rebar. A worker waded into the rubble and lifted out a dead baby. A teddy bear lay nearby.

The conflict threatened to spread across the region. The Israeli military said it struck military sites in Syria in response to rocket launches from the country. Syrian state media said eight soldiers were killed and seven wounded.

One airstrike Wednesday put out of service the runway at the international airport in the city of Aleppo, Syrian media reported. It was the fourth attack on the airport since the fighting began.

READ MORE: Stranded at a closed border as airstrikes continue, foreign nationals in besieged Gaza await evacuation

Israel has also hit Damascus’ airport, in an apparent attempt to prevent arms shipments from Iran to militant groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Israel has been exchanging near daily fire with Iranian-backed Hezbollah across the Lebanese border.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah met with top Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials in their first reported meeting since the war started. Such a meeting could signal coordination between the groups, as Hezbollah officials warned Israel against launching a ground offensive in Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Iran was helping Hamas with intelligence and “whipping up incitement against Israel across the world.” He said Iranian proxies were also operating against Israel from Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.

The Gaza Health Ministry says more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in the war. The figure includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week.

The fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government. Hamas also holds some 222 hostages in Gaza.

The prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, whose country has helped mediate the release of four hostages held in Gaza, said more breakthroughs were possible, “hopefully soon.”

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said Israel killed four Palestinians in Jenin — where clashes between militants and troops were reported — and two others elsewhere. That brought the total number killed in the occupied West Bank since Oct. 7 to 102.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said his country will stop issuing visas to U.N. personnel after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that Hamas’ attack “did not happen in a vacuum.” It was unclear what the action, if implemented, would mean for U.N. aid personnel working in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It’s time to teach them a lesson,” Erdan told Army Radio, accusing the U.N. chief of justifying a slaughter.

The U.N. chief told the Security Council on Tuesday that “the Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation.” Guterres said “the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Guterres said Wednesday he is “shocked” at the misinterpretation of his statement “as if I was justifying acts of terror by Hamas.”

“This is false. It was the opposite,” he told reporters.

Magdy reported from Cairo and Keath from Athens. Associated Press writers Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip; Aamer Madhani in Washington; Amy Teibel in Jerusalem; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; and Brian Melley in London contributed.

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