Six months into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: What is the impact?

Hamas is sending a delegation to Cairo on Sunday for Gaza ceasefire talks in response to an invitation extended by Egyptian mediators, the group said in a statement on Saturday.

Hamas said its demands include a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and an exchange deal of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages.

The latest round of Palestinian-Israeli conflict has stretched on for six months. With a growing number of casualties and the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, global alarm and demands for a halt have mounted, but for people in the Gaza Strip, the wait continues.

‘Catastrophic cumulative impacts’

A World Health Organization team witnessed at least five dead bodies when it reached Al-Shifa Hospital, which was once the backbone of the health system in Gaza, and is now an empty shell with human graves, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the organization’s chief, said on Saturday at social media platform X.

With 84 percent of health facilities damaged or destroyed, and a lack of electricity and water to operate remaining facilities, people in Gaza have minimal access to health care, medicine, or life-saving treatments, according to a report jointly issued by the World Bank and the United Nations last week.

More than half the population of Gaza is on the brink of famine and the entire population is experiencing acute food insecurity and malnutrition, the report said, adding over a million people are without homes and 75 percent of the population is displaced.

“Catastrophic cumulative impacts on physical and mental health have hit women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities the hardest,” the report warned.

It also noted that the cost of damage to critical infrastructure in the region is estimated at around $18.5 billion, equivalent to 97 percent of the combined GDP of the West Bank and Gaza in 2022.

Aid staff of international humanitarian organizations have worked in Gaza to help alleviate the crisis there, but are at risk of losing their lives due to continuous Israeli attacks on the strip.

The Monday night air strike “mistakenly conducted” by Israel that killed seven staff members of the World Central Kitchen aid group has aroused anger even among Israel’s closest allies, including the United States.

So far, 203 humanitarian workers have been killed in Gaza – the highest number of humanitarian casualties in modern times.

Palestinian children wait in long queues with bowls to receive food for their families from charity organizations in Gaza City, Gaza, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Palestinian children wait in long queues with bowls to receive food for their families from charity organizations in Gaza City, Gaza, April 5, 2024. /CFP

Conflict expands in wider region

Israel began air strikes in Gaza on October 7, 2023, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “a state of war” and promised to “eliminate” Hamas as the latter launched a surprise attack in southern Israel that killed over 1,100 and held dozens captive earlier that day.

Israel started its ground offensive in northern Gaza in late October and announced on December 3 the expansion of the ground assault to southern Gaza, previously considered a “safe zone,” after the collapse of a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.

Israel’s ground invasion was further expanded to the central region of Gaza two days later.

Israel’s massive attacks, especially on civilians and health infrastructures in Gaza, have provoked protests in many countries and been denounced by the international community.

At least 33,137 Gazans have been killed and 75,815 wounded in Israeli attacks on the strip since October 7. The death toll in Israel from Hamas’ October 7 attack stands at 1,139, according to latest official figures.

The conflict between Israel and Hamas has spilled over to the Middle East region.

Hezbollah has been trading fire with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since October 8. Yemen’s Houthi started launching missiles and armed drones at Israel in the Red Sea on October 19 in support of Hamas, leading to a shipping crisis that is upending world supply chains.

Iran on Saturday promised revenge after an Israeli attack on its consulate building in Syria’s Damascus killed several people, including top military commanders, arousing concerns over escalation of a conflict between the two countries.

Peace efforts

Hamas’ demands for peace talks on Sunday are a repeat of a March 14 proposal prior to a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that was passed on March 25 while the U.S. abstained from the vote.

So far, only one ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel has come into effect, which was brokered by Qatar on November 24, 2023, resulting in the release of approximately 100 hostages, including women, children and foreigners, in exchange for the liberation of 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Under the most recent proposal, Israel and Hamas would agree to a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the release of sick, elderly and wounded hostages held by Hamas.

Hamas has said that it will not “back down” from its ceasefire demands. Israel was undecided on whether to attend, according to an Israeli official, citing concern that the event would be more political theater than actual progress.

China has expressed concern over the conflict since it broke out, urged for a ceasefire and called for a two-state solution and also the establishment of an independent Palestinian state at several international occasions.

The country has provided emergency humanitarian aid, including food and medical care, to the UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority to alleviate the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

(Cover: Smoke billows over buildings after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, April 4, 2024. /CFP)