By Ali Sawafta
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) -More than 15,900 Palestinians, including 250 health workers, have been killed in Gaza since the outbreak of war on Oct. 7, the Palestinian health minister said on Tuesday.
The number of dead is steadily rising despite international calls for Israeli forces to limit civilian harm in the new phase of its military offensive in Gaza that began on Dec. 1 when a truce with Hamas collapsed, Health Minister Mai al-Kaila told a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
More than 40,900 people in Gaza have been wounded in by Israeli bombardments, according to her ministry. “If the pace at which the (Israeli) forces are going continues, the health sector may collapse completely,” said al-Kaila.
She said the ministry was doing its best to count those killed in real time, but the final number of war dead would be far higher. This was because thousands of bodies remain buried in rubble from airstrikes, and the government authority charged with removing corpses from sites of bombings, called the Civil Defence, had all but collapsed, she said.
Israel is expanding its ground campaign through southern Gaza, a spokesperson announced on Tuesday, adding the government was open to “constructive feedback” on reducing harm to civilians so long as advice was consistent with its objective of destroying Gaza’s ruling Hamas group.
Al-Kaila said Israeli airstrikes have hit health facilities and hospitals and Israeli forces had detained 30 health workers during the offensive launched in retribution for an Oct. 7 cross-border rampage into southern Israel by Hamas militants who killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli tallies.
In the south of the densely populated territory, only five hospitals are still operating, at minimal capacity, and the total number of beds is 1,300, Al-Kaila said.
She referred to the “disastrous” state of health services in Gaza, remarks similar to those by a World Health Organization official in the besieged enclave earlier in the day.
Gaza health officials have recorded as many cases of severe diarrhoea among children as had been recorded among children in the enclave in all of 2020 and 2021 combined, she said.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where violence has surged since the Gaza war erupted, 260 Palestinians have been killed and 3,200 injured since Oct. 7, Al-Kaila said.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; writing by Maggie Fick; editing by Edmund Blair, Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)