Palestine Death Toll Soars Past 7,700 As Israel Intensifies Bombing Amid Communications Blackout

Resolution calling for immediate cessation of hostilities passed at UN with US voting against while Ukraine, India and Iraq abstaining

Palestine Death Toll Soars Past 7,700 As Israel Intensifies Bombing Amid Communications Blackout

Palestinians in the narrow Gaza Strip continued to dig for their loved ones buried under rubble after a devastating night of Israeli bombardment amid loss of communication networks, with the death toll surging past 7,700.

Elsewhere in the world, a resolution calling for a 'humanitarian truce' in Gaza was passed at the United Nations while protests against the violence were staged by a large number of Jews in New York.

Those Palestinians who got some sleep woke up on Saturday morning to find a new wave of destruction in Gaza. Medics said that, like others, they too were discovering and pulling bodies of loved ones from the rubble in the Strip, where no person remains untouched by grief or loss.

On Friday evening, cellular, phone and internet services in the Strip were cut off as Israel intensified its bombing campaign in the Strip.

There were reports that Israel had resorted to using White Phosphorus bombs apart from bombing in the vicinity of the Indonesian hospital in Gaza.

Due to the internet shutdown and network blackout, injured or affected Palestinians in Gaza could not directly seek help from medical services or call hospitals. It also meant that hospitals and other relief organisations lost contact with their teams in the field. News organisations lost contact with reporters. Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres - MSF), Amnesty International, Unicef, UNOPT, UNDP, and Medical Aid UK, among others, said they had lost contact with their staff.

Paramedics and medical services resorted to asking journalists about where the bombings were taking place to be able to mount rescue efforts, but journalists said that they had no information coming in due to the blackout. Only some people had connectivity through non-Israel, Palestinian or Egyptian SIMs or through satellite connectivity.

Nebal Farsakh, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), told The Friday Times that they were worried for the safety of their teams at the hospitals and the paramedics.

"Teams are facing immense challenges to conduct their humanitarian role and save lives," she said, adding that the first responders on the ground must have been following the sound of bombardment to reach victims, if at all. 

PRCS is the lead emergency medical aid provider agency in Gaza. They run a network of ambulances and two hospitals, Al-Quds and Al-Amal, affiliated with the agency. 

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Ministry of Health in Palestine estimate there are more than 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza. Farsakh noted that in an emergency, these women cannot come to the hospital or call for help.

Farsakh refuted Israeli claims that hospitals were used as bases by Hamas. She added that just before the blackout, doctors at the Al Shifa Hospital took people around it to prove that it was not serving as a hideout for militants.

The latest toll, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry, had risen to 7,703 casualties, including more than 3,195 children.

Protest in New York

In New York, hundreds of people, including many Jews, flooded the main hall of the Grand Central Station on Friday.

They called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. They wore sweatshirts with the words "Not In Our Name" and "Cease Fire Now" printed on them. They also held up banners reading "Palestinians should be free" and "Mourn the dead, fight like hell for the living".

The protest demonstration was organised by the group Jewish Voice for Peace in New York City. The group said thousands of its members participated in the event, blocking the main concourse. Some Rabbis who participated in the protest lit Shabbat candles and recited the Kaddish - the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Police were called to break up the protests, with some 200 protesters reportedly arrested.

 UN vote

With a vote at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) blocked following a veto by the United States, a resolution calling for "an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities."

The non-binding truce, which was co-sponsored by Pakistan along with 50 other countries, received an overwhelming response from the global community.

It called for condemning all acts of violence aimed at Palestinian and Israeli civilians, including all acts of terrorism and indiscriminate attacks, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction while emphasising that civilians must be protected by international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and deploring in this regard the heavy civilian casualties and widespread destruction.

It also called for the need to pursue accountability and stressed in this regard the importance of ensuring independent and transparent investigations in accordance with international standards.

Furthermore, the resolution called for rescinding of the order by Israel, “the occupying Power”, for Palestinian civilians, UN staff and humanitarian workers to evacuate all areas in the Gaza Strip north of Wadi Gaza and relocate to the south.

The General Assembly also called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all civilians being illegally held captive, demanding their safety, well-being and humane treatment in compliance with international law.

It was passed with 120 votes in favour. Some 14 countries voted against it, while 45 abstained.

The 14 who voted against it included Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Fiji, Guatemala, Hungary, Israel, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Tonga and the United States.

However, many European and South Asian countries abstained, including the likes of Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

In Asia, India, Japan and Korea abstained. Iraq from the Middle East also abstained, but later claimed that they voted in favour and there was a technical glitch.

Prior to voting on the resolution, an amendment led by Canada did not pass, as it failed to acquire the required two-thirds majority. That amendment would have “unequivocally reject[ed] and condemn[ed] the terrorist attacks by Hamas that took place in Israel starting on October 7, 2023 and the taking of hostages”.

Pakistan’s ambassador Munir Akram said that if Canada was being fair in its amendment it would agree to name Israel as well as Hamas.

Not naming either side was the best choice, he said.

“Israel needs to be named too, if you are to be fair and equitable and just”, he said. We all know who started this. It is 50 years of Israeli occupation and the killing of Palestinians with impunity.

"Israel can’t face the truth or face justice. The Israeli occupation is the original sin, not what happened on October 7."

After the vote, Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Gilad Erdan questioned the purpose of the UN. 

"We have all witnessed that the UN holds not even one ounce of legitimacy," he said. "The UN is committed to ensuring further atrocity. According to the family of nations, Israel has no right to defend itself."

He slammed the UN for failing to hold Hamas accountable.

“We know there is no humanitarian crisis in accordance with international humanitarian law,” he said, asserting that every statistic and information about Gaza comes from Hamas.

The writer is a multimedia journalist and researches human rights abuses. She hosts a show on social justice stories on Naya Daur TV.