As Israeli Invasion Looms, Diplomats Seek to Meet Gaza’s Dire Human Needs

Diplomats were locked in frantic talks on Sunday to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as an Israeli ground invasion appeared imminent.

At the same time, the United States was deploying a second aircraft carrier to the Eastern Mediterranean amid fears of a wider war.

Capturing these concerns on Sunday was António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, who said, “We are on the verge of the abyss in the Middle East.”

Officials from the United States, Egypt and Middle Eastern countries sought to ease what Israeli officials have called the “siege” of Gaza, which has led to dire shortages of food, water, gasoline and other essentials in the blockaded territory.

Video images on Sunday showed lines of trucks idling on the road to Gaza in the Egyptian city of Arish, about 30 miles from the border they were not allowed to cross.

After days of acute water shortages in Gaza, Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, said on Sunday that Israel had agreed to restore water to a pipeline that served a southern part of the enclave.

As Israeli troops massed on the border, more than two million Gaza residents endured a panicked countdown to the expected start of a ground invasion of northern Gaza.

Palestinians at a supermarket in Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, on Sunday.Credit…Samar Abu Elouf for The New York Times

“We will take Hamas apart,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told government ministers on Sunday at the first formal meeting of Israel’s new emergency wartime government, according to a statement from his office. Israel, a wounded country mobilized for war and torn between angst and anger, has called up 360,000 military reservists for duty.

Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, conceded in a speech on Sunday night that Israel’s leaders had failed to keep the country safe.

“We must say, with honesty and pain and with our heads bowed: We have failed,” Mr. Smotrich said, referring to the Hamas attacks eight days earlier that led to the worst massacres of Israelis since the country’s founding 75 years ago. “We did not manage to fulfill the most important, unwritten contract between a state and its citizens.”

The Israeli military also announced what it called a “path to safety” along the streets of northern Gaza. The military said it would not carry out attacks along the route for several hours in the late morning and early afternoon on Sunday.

“During this window, please take the opportunity to move southward from northern Gaza,” the military said. It was the third day that Israel has encouraged an exodus from northern Gaza; on Saturday, it showered streets with leaflets calling on residents to leave.

The United Nations has estimated that nearly one million residents of Gaza have been displaced. But some in northern parts of the enclave say that moving will be impossible. At Al Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest medical complex, the wounded streamed in on Sunday. Moving the patients would be logistically impossible and medically dangerous, said the hospital’s director, Dr. Muhammad Abu Salima.

Round-the-clock Israeli bombings of Gaza continued apace. The Israeli Air Force has dropped more than 6,000 bombs across Gaza over the first week of fighting, with most strikes in the north.

The intended targets were operational command centers, military compounds, anti-tank missile launch posts and “observation posts,” the military said, although many targets were in dense urban areas. Israel says Hamas members live among the civilian community and hide in homes, schools and hospitals.

An Israeli fighter jet also launched a missile that, the Israeli military claimed, killed Billal Al Kedra, described by Israel as a Hamas commander responsible for the massacre at Israel’s Kibbutz Nirim on Oct. 7.

Israel army soldiers securing the perimeter at the Kfar Azza kibbutz on Sunday.Credit…Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

Israel’s retaliatory strikes have killed at least 2,670 people in Gaza over the past week, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Palestinian news media reported on Sunday that an Israeli strike on a home in Rafah, near the closed Egypt border crossing, had killed at least 17 members of a family.

Israeli officials said over the weekend that of the 1,300 people killed in Israel by Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 raid, at least 258 were Israeli soldiers. Israel’s hospitals reported on Sunday that 377 people were still being treated for injuries sustained in the Hamas attacks.

Amid the mounting death toll, geopolitics hovered over the conflict. Israel’s operations in Gaza came under criticism both by its neighbor Egypt, and by China.

Both countries used similar language in their criticism. Just before his meeting on Sunday with the U.S. secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt said that Israel’s attack on Gaza had exceeded “the right of self-defense” and turned into “a collective punishment,” according to The Associated Press.

The meeting between Mr. Blinken and Mr. el-Sisi became personal when the president criticized the secretary for saying last week that, as a Jew, he had been deeply affected by the Hamas attacks. Mr. Blinken responded by saying, “I come as a human being appalled by the atrocities by Hamas.”

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, told his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, that “Israel’s actions have already gone beyond self-defense,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Israel “should conscientiously listen to the calls of the international community and Secretary General of the United Nations, and halt collective punishment of the people of Gaza,” the ministry quoted Mr. Wang saying.

A displaced Palestinian woman carrying bread in Khan Yunis on Sunday.Credit…Yousef Masoud for The New York Times

The comments were a stark contrast to some voices in the U.S. Congress, especially among Republicans, who argued that Israel should be able to go after Hamas without any measure of restraint.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said on “Fox News Sunday” that “anything that happens in Gaza is the responsibility of Hamas.”

And yet fears of a wider conflict were fueled over the weekend by exchanges of artillery fire between the Israeli military and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility on Sunday for an attack on the northern Israeli settlement of Shtula that killed at least one Israeli and injured three others.

The Israeli military declared the area adjacent to the Lebanon border an “isolation zone” and said no one would be allowed in.

And in Syria, officials over the weekend accused Israel of conducting airstrikes at the Aleppo airport. On the social platform X, formerly Twitter, Joshua Zarka, a senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official, did not specifically address the damage to the airport but said Israel’s broad aim was to prevent Iran from moving weapons to or via Syria in order to open another front for Israel.

The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, was explicit about the reasons for the dispatch of a second U.S. aircraft carrier and squadrons of attack aircraft to the eastern Mediterranean on Saturday. He said the deployment was “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war.”

The second carrier, the Dwight D. Eisenhower, is expected to arrive in the next few days, joining the carrier Gerald R. Ford.

The United States has also been trying to broker a deal with Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing to allow Americans trapped in Gaza safe passage. Egypt has held up aid convoys to Gaza over disagreements with Israel about how and where the convoys should be screened for weapons, according to a senior diplomat familiar with the discussions. Egypt has refused to allow even foreigners to leave Gaza until that is resolved, the diplomat added.

Reporting was contributed by Anna Betts, Emma Bubola, Karoun Demirjian, Patrick Kingsley, Farah Mohamed, Zach Montague, Vivian Nereim, Eric Schmitt, Euan Ward and Edward Wong.

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