Published: 12:58, February 20, 2024 | Updated: 17:00, February 20, 2024
26 EU nations urge 'immediate humanitarian pause' in Gaza
By Xinhua

People conduct rescue work after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on Feb. 19, 2024. The Palestinian death toll resulting from the ongoing Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip has surpassed 29,000, the Gaza-based Health Ministry announced on Monday. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

BRUSSELS / GAZA / TEHRAN – Twenty-six member states of the European Union (EU) called for an "immediate humanitarian pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire" in the besieged Gaza Strip, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said here on Monday as the Palestinian death toll exceeded 29,000.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers, all EU countries except Hungary warned Israel against launching an assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which they said would deepen the catastrophe of some 1.5 million refugees crammed into the city.

"An attack on Rafah would be absolutely catastrophic ... it would be unconscionable," Ireland's Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said before the meeting.

Eight patients have died in a major hospital in southern Gaza's Khan Younis city after days of power outage and oxygen supply shortage due to continuous Israeli strikes on the facility, said Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila on Monday

Israel's reported plans for an assault on the city have sounded international alarm bells, with many countries urging restraint or cancelation of the operation.

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The Gaza-based Health Ministry announced on Monday that the Palestinian death toll resulting from the ongoing Israeli attacks has surpassed 29,000.

According to a press statement from the ministry, the Israeli army killed 107 Palestinians and wounded 145 more within the past 24 hours.

This latest update brings the total number of casualties to 29,092 deaths and 69,028 injuries since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on Oct 7, 2023, according to the statement.

It noted that some victims remain under the rubble amid heavy bombardment and a lack of civil defense and ambulance crews.

Israel has been launching a large-scale offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip to retaliate against a Hamas rampage through the southern Israeli border on Oct 7, 2023, during which about 1,400 people were killed and more than 200 were taken hostage.

Oxygen supply shortage

Eight patients have died in a major hospital in southern Gaza's Khan Younis city after days of power outage and oxygen supply shortage due to continuous Israeli strikes on the facility, said Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila on Monday.

Conditions of some other serious patients became life-threatening due to the cessation of required treatment under the Israeli attack on the Nasser Hospital, she said in a statement, while calling for international efforts to pressure the release of bedridden patients and medical staff, who she claimed were taken away by Israeli military trucks from the hospital to an unknown location.

Israeli forces on Thursday stormed the Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis after demolishing its southern wall, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza earlier said.

The IDF said in a statement posted Sunday on social media platform X that it apprehended, in a joint operation with Israel Security Agency forces, hundreds of "terrorists" and other suspects who were hiding in the hospital, some posing as medical staff.

This picture taken from a position in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows an Israeli army armoured vehicle driving as smoke billow in the background, on February 19, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (PHOTO / AFP)

It said that large quantities of weapons and a vehicle belonging to an Israeli border kibbutz were found in the health facility, as well as medicines about to be handed over to Israeli hostages. It accused Hamas of using civilians in the hospital as human shields.

On Monday, the Gaza Health Ministry said that the Israeli army has turned the Nasser Medical Complex into a "military barracks," endangering the lives of patients and medical staff inside.

The ministry said in a statement that 25 medical staff and 136 patients were still in the hospital "without electricity, water, food, oxygen, or adequate medical capabilities for critical cases."

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The World Health Organization was making efforts to evacuate the remaining patients to other hospitals, but the Israeli army was still "obstructing" the entry of medical and humanitarian aid into the complex, it noted.

Meanwhile, the IDF retweeted a statement by the Israeli defense ministry's liaison unit COGAT that humanitarian aid and supplies had been delivered to the Nasser Hospital, including generator, fuel, and WHO-donated medicine to ensure its continued service while carrying out the "precise activity against the Hamas" inside the facility.

'Stop Rafah offensive'

In Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Monday called on the United Nations to prevent a possible major Israeli offensive on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Amir-Abdollahian made the remarks in a letter addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, according to a statement published on the Iranian Foreign Ministry's website.

Displaced Palestinian children gather to receive food at a government school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 19, 2024, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (PHOTO / AFP)

"As you rightly said recently, an all-out offensive on the city would be devastating for the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians there who are already on the edge of survival," said the Iranian foreign minister.

He called on the international community not to let such "carnage" happen, stressing that "any military offensive on Rafah would undoubtedly qualify as another phase in the Israeli genocide of the Palestinian nation."

READ MORE: Israel army chief: Gaza conflict to continue throughout 2024

The Iranian foreign minister also said it was imperative that the UN fulfilled its responsibilities and averted further "mass atrocities" against the Palestinians, who had taken refuge in Rafah.

Over the past few weeks, Israel has signaled an intention to conduct a ground operation in Rafah to "eliminate" Hamas and rescue Israeli captives.

On Feb 12, the Israeli army and special forces jointly raided Rafah and rescued two captives held by Hamas since last October.

The UN Security Council plans to hold a vote on Tuesday on the draft resolution requested by Algeria, which would demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.