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Food will run out in days under Israel’s total blockade of Gaza, humanitarian experts warn

Humanitarian organizations on Tuesday called for international aid for Gaza as Israel imposes a further blockade on the territory. While experts condemned Hamas attacks on Israelis as "abhorrent," they also warned a complete siege on the territory will lead to disastrous shortages of food, water and electricity for millions of civilians and may amount to war crimes.

Experts condemn 'abhorrent' Hamas attacks while raising concern for 2.3M civilians in Gaza

Three men wearing black clothing inspect rubble of a mosque destroyed by an airstrike.

Humanitarian organizations on Tuesday called for international aid for Gaza as Israel imposes a further blockade on the impoverished territory. While experts condemned the Hamas attacks on Israelis as "abhorrent," they also warned that a complete siege on the territory will lead to disastrous shortages of food, water and electricity for millions of civilians.

Representatives from the United Nations to refugee councils have said the latest Israeli siege would be another example of international law being broken by those on both sides of the conflict, which has left hundreds dead and thousands more injured since Saturday.

"It's going to affect everything," Michael Lynk, former United Nations special rapporteur for the situation of human rights and the Palestinian territory, said of a total blockade.

"Gaza is a perpetual case of humanitarian disaster. But this is not earthquakes that are occurring or typhoons that are occurring. This is human-made disasters."

Experts say a total siege on Gaza will affect access to food, water, electricity, medical supplies and sewage treatment for the territory's 2.3 million residents. The United Nations has said such a blockade would violate international humanitarian law — but without resolve from the international community to enforce those laws, experts said civilians will be the ones bearing the consequences.

WATCH | The humanitarian crisis facing civilians in Gaza:

Gaza faces humanitarian crisis with Israeli retaliation

1 day ago

Duration 1:59

Featured VideoAfter an attack by Hamas, Israel has declared a siege on the Gaza Strip, cutting off food, water and fuel — a move many say will cause a humanitarian crisis in a region that’s already struggling.

Israel vows complete siege of territory

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday that authorities would fully cut off supplies to Gaza after Hamas militants launched a stunning attack on Israel Saturday.

Civilians have paid the price for the violence on both sides of the conflict since the attack.

Hamas's assault resulted in more than 1,000 Israelis dead and about 150 civilians and soldiers taken hostage, with Hamas threatening to execute some of them if Israel's airstrikes on Gaza continued without warning.

At least 900 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the war so far, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said Tuesday, with entire districts in Gaza flattened.

Thousands of people have been wounded on both sides.

The movement of people and goods — including food and water — has been controlled under an Israeli blockade since 2007. Israel withdrew its military forces from the territory under international pressure in 2005 but has said it needed to maintain the blockade to protect Israelis from Hamas.

"Israel controls everything that goes in and out of the Gaza Strip," said Lynk, who visited Gaza periodically while he worked for the UN in Jerusalem.

WATCH | Sieges endangering civilians not allowed under international law, UN rep says:

Sieges that endanger civilians 'prohibited under international humanitarian law,' UN rep says

15 hours ago

Duration 0:52

Featured VideoRavina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, discussed Israel announcing a 'complete siege' of Gaza after Hamas launched attacks from the enclave that have since escalated into a war.

He said food would run out "very quickly" under a total blockade, leading to "the beginnings of starvation within a couple of days." He said two-thirds of the Palestinian population in Gaza would also be affected by the loss of potable water.

Lynk said the siege would also affect sewage treatment, leading to raw sewage in the streets of Gaza that could spread disease.

"Significant shortages" in medical equipment and medicines would get worse, he said, creating a "humanitarian health-care crisis."

"The doctors and the hospitals are going to be overwhelmed by the number of people coming and the inability to have either the staff — and, particularly, to have the equipment and drug treatment — to be able to work on them," he said.

People inspect the rubble of a mosque destroyed after it was hit by an airstrike.

Some 187,500 people have fled their homes in Gaza, a UN humanitarian office spokesperson said Monday. The Rafah crossing into Egypt, the sole pathway to leave the territory because the rest of Gaza is surrounded by Israel and the Mediterranean Sea, was closed Tuesday.

The World Health Organization has called for a humanitarian corridor to be opened to allow new medical supplies to be ferried into Gaza.

Siege might mean 'utter disaster,' groups warn

The secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international aid organization, said the Israeli government's move Monday would spell "utter disaster'' for civilians living in Gaza.

"There is no doubt that collective punishment is in violation of international law. It's clear as that,'' Jan Egeland told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

"If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because of a lack of energy, electricity and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.''

A statement from the International Criminal Court on Tuesday said its prosecutor is gathering information on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. The court investigates and tries those charged with "the gravest crimes of concern to the international community," including crimes against humanity.

WATCH | How Hamas went undetected in days leading up to attack on Israel:

How Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel unfolded

2 days ago

Duration 7:42

Featured VideoIsrael has declared war with Hamas after the Palestinian militant group launched a surprise attack that killed hundreds. The National breaks down how Hamas went seemingly undetected by Israeli intelligence for months and days leading up to the attack and what could happen next.

The UN's secretary-general condemned the "abhorrent" attacks by Hamas but said he was also "deeply distressed" by Israel's blockade.

"The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities. Now, it will only deteriorate exponentially,'' Antonio Guterres said at a news conference in New York on Monday.

"While I recognize Israel's legitimate security concerns, I also remind Israel that military operations must be conducted in strict accordance with international humanitarian law."

Guterres called for UN access to deliver humanitarian aid and urged international partners to support those efforts.

Political resolve needed to enforce laws

Lynk, who is also a professor emeritus at the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., says international humanitarian laws are only as strong as the international community's resolve to enforce them.

"There is no such thing as an effective international court that can wind up enforcing rights that we think are guaranteed in international law. International law is the promise that countries make to one another," he said.

People gather around grey concrete rubble in Gaza.

"Accountability in the end … depends not simply on the law. It also depends upon political resolve in the international community, and there's been precious little of that."

A UN-appointed commission of inquiry said in a statement there was already "clear evidence that war crimes might have been committed" by all sides of the conflict. It said it was collecting evidence to ensure future legal accountability.

With files from Reuters

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