united nations — The Israeli military carried out airstrikes early Thursday in Rafah, an area of the southern Gaza Strip that has been the focus of international concern for the safety of Palestinian civilians.

U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees said Wednesday that a rise in airstrikes in Rafah has “heightened fears that they will further hamper overstretched humanitarian operations” in the area with nearly 1.5 million people.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that nearly 100 people had been killed by Israeli forces throughout the Gaza Strip during the past day, bringing the total in the war to 29,410 people.

Israel’s military said Thursday its forces conducted offensives in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City, in the northern part of the strip, and in western Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

In an opinion piece first published Wednesday in the Brazilian newspaper Folha, U.N. humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths urged G20 members meeting in Rio de Janeiro this week to use their political leadership and influence to help end the war in Gaza. 

“The atrocities befalling the people of Gaza — and the humanitarian tragedy they are enduring — are there for the world to see, documented by brave Palestinian journalists, too many of them have been killed while doing so,” he wrote. “No one can pretend not to know.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, said Wednesday that Gaza “has become a death zone.”

“Much of the territory has been destroyed, more than 29,000 people are dead, many more are missing, presumed dead, and many, many more are injured,” he told reporters in Geneva.

WHO has worked this week with the Palestine Red Crescent Society to evacuate patients from the besieged Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis to two field hospitals in southern Gaza. Tedros said they had carried out several emergency missions.

“Around [111] sick and injured patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses remain in the hospital,” he said.

Israel accuses Hamas of operating in and under the hospital.

Cease-fire demands fail

The latest fighting followed the failure Tuesday of the U.N. Security Council to demand an immediate cease-fire, after the United States vetoed an Algerian-drafted resolution that had the support of 13 of the council’s 15 members.

“Demanding an immediate, unconditional cease-fire without an agreement requiring Hamas to release the hostages will not bring about a durable peace,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of the proposed text.

Algeria first presented the council with its text three weeks ago and delayed a vote to give negotiations led by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar for the release of the hostages time to succeed. But the country’s ambassador said silence was no longer an option.

“We are rapidly approaching a critical juncture where the call to halt the machinery of violence will lose its significance,” Ambassador Amar Bendjama said of Israel’s impending incursion on the southern city of Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Israel’s envoy called the idea of a cease-fire “absurd” and not a magic solution.

The United States is proposing its own draft resolution, which was presented to council members on Wednesday, diplomats told VOA.

Seen by VOA, it supports a “temporary cease-fire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” It also objects to an expected major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, saying “it should not proceed under current circumstances.”

Israel has warned it plans to carry out an offensive on Hamas targets in Rafah before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan if the hostages are not released. Ramadan starts around March 10. Israeli officials have also spoken of evacuations of civilians from the area without providing any detailed plans.

Israel began its military campaign to eliminate Hamas after the group’s fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials, and taking about 250 others hostage. Hamas, designated a terror group by the U.S., the U.K. and EU, is believed to still be holding about 130 hostages in Gaza, including 30 who are believed to be dead.

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