‘Bullets and bombs’ will not win the Israel-Hamas war, WHO head warns, as death toll climbs and humanitarian conditions deteriorate

The war between Israel and Hamas will “not be solved with bullets and bombs,” but “dialogue, understanding, compassion, and peace,” World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has agreed to help the international health agency deliver humanitarian supplies through the Rafah Crossing, the only entry point to Gaza from Egypt, Ghebreyesus said during remarks in Cairo at the WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean committee meeting.

The WHO will move supplies from its logistics hub in Dubai to Egypt, and will work with the Palestine Red Crescent Society—part of the International Red Cross—to ensure they’re received by health facilities in Gaza, according to Ghebreyesus.

“This is the latest tragic chapter in a tragic story in which there are no winners,” he added.

Roughly 1,300 have been killed since Hamas militants on Saturday stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, in an unprecedented surprise attack on a major Jewish holiday. The deaths were split nearly evenly between Israel and Gaza, and thousands more were injured on both sides.

Despite Ghebreyesus’ call for cooler heads, Israel hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and Palestinian militants continued firing barrages of rockets on Monday, setting off air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

U.N. decries killings of civilians

Also on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that more innocent lives will be lost, focusing on civilians on both sides and renewing his condemnation of the fatalities and hostage-taking by Hamas.

In a statement to reporters in New York, Guterres said that more than 137,000 people in Gaza—or about 6% of its population—were now sheltering in sites run by UNRWA, the aid agency for Palestinians. He cited reports of Israeli missile strikes on places like schools, health facilities, and high-rise apartment buildings.

“I am deeply distressed by today’s announcement that Israel will initiate a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing allowed in—no electricity, food, or fuel,” he said. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities. Now, it will only deteriorate exponentially.”

Gaza is an area with extremely limited health care, further limited by Israeli blockades. Israel requires patients, caretakers, and health workers to obtain permits to reach health facilities, including hospitals, in the West Bank, Israel, and Jordan.

But approval isn’t always received in a timely manner, according to the WHO. More than a third of patient permits and more than a half of caretaker permits were not approved in time for hospital appointments from 2019 through 2021, and about 9% of patients die within six months of their first hospitalization. The majority of that period was during peacetime.

Before the war, the average wait time for an ambulance to exit Gaza was 68 minutes, according to a 2022 WHO report.

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