UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday that the Middle East was on the “verge of the abyss” as he urged Islamist Hamas to immediately release the hostages it took.
Guterres in a statement also called for swift humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip.
“Each one of these two objectives are valid in themselves.
“They should not become bargaining chips and they must be implemented because it is the right thing to do.
“Gaza is running out of water, electricity, and other essential supplies,” the UN chief said.
Guterres added that the UN has stocks of food, water, non-food items, medical supplies, and fuel available in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and the West Bank which could be sent to Gaza “within hours” if staff could deliver them safely and without impediment.
The coastal enclave of Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, with about 2.2 million people living on around 45 square kilometres.
The Israeli military has been bombarding targets in the area since the unprecedented attacks on Israeli civilians carried out by Hamas fighters on Oct. 7.
The Palestinian militant organisation, which rules Gaza, launched thousands of rockets toward Israel while hundreds of its fighters breached border defences in an unprecedented surprise attack over a week ago in a massacre that left more than 1,300 dead.
It also abducted more than 150 people.
One week after the start of the latest conflict, the number of dead in the Gaza Strip has risen to 2,670, the Ministry of Health in Gaza said on Sunday.
Following Hamas’ large-scale attack, Israel tied the basic provision of services to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip to the release of Israeli hostages held by the Islamist organisation.
Gaza was on edge on Sunday evening as Israel’s expected ground offensive was delayed to allow more civilians in Gaza to move south to avoid the incursion by the Israeli military.
Israel’s repeated instructions to Gazans to leave the area have been widely criticized, including by the UN which has warned of the danger of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”
Israel’s stated goal is to wipe out the political and military leadership of Hamas. (dpa/NAN)