Intense urban fighting continued on Monday in the bloodiest war in Gaza’s history, in which more than 18,200 Palestinians died and 104 Israeli soldiersin the middle of a humanitarian crisis increasingly serious.
As its offensive against Hamas progresses, launched after the terrorist group’s brutal massacre on October 7, Israel urged civilians to seek refuge in the far south, but the army has continued to attack targets throughout the territory. The UN estimates that 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced. About half are children.
In an attempt to reduce the damage against the civilian population, the Israeli army has published complex maps dividing Gaza into hundreds of seemingly safe and unsafe areasbut Palestinians say they are confusing and difficult to access amid electricity and telecommunications outages. Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said today that the measure was inadequate. “A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that they are ‘safe zones’ where there is no infrastructure, food, water, healthcare or hygiene does not mean they are safe,” she said.
The conflict has also devastated health services, with only 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals operating at full capacity, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.
To seek to alleviate the situation, the Israeli authorities confirmed this Monday that They will open the Kerem Shalom passon the border with the Gaza Strip and Egypt, to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave, although at the moment no deadlines have been given in this regard.
About all this, Infobae spoke with an Israeli lieutenant colonel from the COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), the Israeli military authority in charge of the Palestinian territories. The officer, whose identity cannot be revealed for security reasons, serves in the 98th division of the Israeli army in the area of Khan Younis, the largest city in the south of the Strip, which the Israeli army has been attacking for days. He explains that Their job is to “prevent a humanitarian crisis.”. Among other tasks, it is responsible for ensuring that the Defense Forces know where civilian shelters and hospitals are, coordinating the evacuations of Palestinian civilians and being an intermediary with the organizations and countries that send humanitarian aid to the Strip.
—What is the military situation in Khan Younis at the moment?
—We are at the beginning of the attack. We are entering Khan Younis and we are trying to reduce the damage to the innocent population. Our problem is that Hamas is hiding among innocent civilians and that makes everything more complicated.
—According to several international media, Israeli troops were approaching Nasser’s hospital, which is the main hospital in the city. How are they going to address the situation in this hospital, where there are thousands of civilian refugees?
—At this moment we are not dealing with that hospital. At the request of other countries, such as Egypt, there are temporary hospitals that have been opened to provide a form of medical aid, since we know that we have also found terrorists in hospitals.
—Is it going to be something similar to the operation at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City?
—We are not dealing with Nasser. But we may come to that.
—And in terms of civil infrastructure, such as energy supply and water supply systems, there are reports of a growing absence of basic services in the south. How is the situation currently?
—I can’t lie to you that the situation is ideal. My job is to prevent a humanitarian crisis. We try to provide everything that is needed. For example, there is a water pipeline that carries water to the Gaza Strip from Israel and troops are prohibited from touching it so that it is not damaged. We seek to ensure that water, food, and donations that come from different parts of the world arrive every day. And that everything that is needed on a medical level also reaches hospitals. Through COGAT we have direct contacts with the hospitals, so we know well what you need and we try to get it to you. That is my job, to coordinate in my area and in parallel with others as well.
—But is the situation manageable? Because, for example, there are 1.3 million Palestinian refugees in 154 facilities of the United Nations Public Works Agency. So there is talk of a situation of severe overcrowding. The WHO warned of a collapse of the health system and a growing risk of disease.
—Israel did not ask for this war. Israel on October 7 woke up to a massacre. And we have been threatened for years with missiles from Hamas and Hamas is the terrorist group that has been hiding among the civilian population for years. There is no other way to get it out than to enter these places. We do everything possible so that people, who have nothing to do with it and are innocent, can escape. Before the troops entered, we announced that we were going to enter. We ask people, we mark areas where they can move and be safe. Yes, it is true, the situation is very very complicated, but it is Hamas that is hiding behind civilians.
—There are safe areas, I think for example of Al Mawasi, that humanitarian organizations say are not really safe because there are many people crowded together and there are no basic services.
—Al Mawasi was marked from the beginning by Israel as the safest area and we asked people to go there. We put up tents, we did different things and Hamas was the one that initially refused to allow people to be there. The proof is that in the end, when we entered the shelters, we found weapons and missiles directed towards Israel. We have safe areas for people’s lives. We have marked an entire route through which everything that is needed can pass. And that’s our job: coordinate. We are all the time coordinating with humanitarian groups how to get things delivered. Of course, it would have been better to have another situation. We are in a war situation and we are trying to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
—And with what organizations do you coordinate aid?
—In general with the United States and organizations such as UN agencies, Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross.
—Martin Griffiths, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, said there is “nowhere safe” in Gaza. What responds to this statement?
—My opinion is that the situation in Gaza is very, very complicated. There are areas that we make sure are safe for the population. When troops try to enter, for example, in Khan Younis we treat or check the areas in a very, very careful way. We know exactly how we have divided the city and we know on each block we go if it is evacuated. That is, we warn in advance that we are going to enter. The Israeli army is trying all the time to avoid harming innocent people. What’s more, in the midst of war we are always analyzing whether there are things that should not happen. We try to learn how we can do it better and adjust the work of the army. Precisely so as not to harm or affect innocent people.
—What are some lessons you learned and things you adjusted over these two months?
—For example, once we waited an extra day before launching an attack because we saw that the population had not evacuated. We suspended the entry of the Army. We stop it. We gave another 24 hours to evacuate people. We check over and over again the places we know are shelters.
—Arab countries and humanitarian organization officials say this offensive could leave Palestinian civilians with no option other than to leave Gaza. Is it a real risk? Is Israel seeking to avoid this situation?
—Israel is not trying to remove the population from Gaza. He tries to defend himself, he wants to defend himself and remove the Hamas group that announces daily that Israel does not have the right to exist as a country. This is Hamas’ statement. Israel has left Gaza and for years, also thanks to other countries, allowed the entry of cement, everything, so that it could be built and developed. And instead of developing, [Hamas] He was building an army against Israel, without helping his own population. Israel does not want to stay in the Gaza Strip to govern it, but who is going to run it? It is a political question as to what agreements will be reached and who will take responsibility for that area.
—How long do you estimate the offensive can still last?
-Don’t know. If they surrender, release the hostages (we still have more than 135 hostages held by Hamas), it can end tomorrow.