Palestinian girl Fulla Al Laham, 4, who was wounded in an Israeli strike that killed 14 family members, including her parents and all her siblings, lies on a bed as her grandmother sits next to her, at a hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. Image Credit: REUTERS

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip: Medics in Gaza warned on Sunday that thousands could die as hospitals packed with wounded people run desperately low on fuel and basic supplies.

Palestinians in the beseiged coastal enclave struggled to find food, water and safety ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in the war sparked by Hamas’ deadly attack last week.

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Israeli forces, supported by a growing deployment of US warships in the region, positioned themselves along Gaza’s border and drilled for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group.

A week of blistering airstrikes have demolished entire neighbourhoods but failed to stem militant rocket fire into Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 2,329 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting erupted, more than in the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks. That makes this the deadliest of the five Gaza wars for both sides.

More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians killed in Hamas’ October 7 assault. This is the deadliest war for Israel since the 1973 conflict with Egypt and Syria.

Hospitals are expected to run out of generator fuel within two days, according to the UN, which said that that would endanger the lives of thousands of patients. Gaza’s sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 40-km-long (25-mile-long) territory following the Hamas attack.

In Nasser Hospital, in the southern town of Khan Younis, intensive care rooms are packed with wounded patients, most of them children under the age of 3. Hundreds of people with severe blast injuries have come to the hospital, where fuel is expected to run out by Monday, said Dr. Mohammad Qandeel, a consultant at the critical care complex.

There are 35 patients in the ICU who depend on ventilators to stay alive and another 60 on dialysis. If fuel runs out, “it means the whole health system will be shut down,” he said.

“We are talking about another catastrophe, another war crime, a historical tragedy,” he said, as children moaned in pain in the background. “All these patients are in danger of death if the electricity is cut off.”

7 newborns in ICU

Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of paediatrics at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, said it did not evacuate despite Israeli orders. There are seven newborns in the ICU hooked up to ventilators, he said. “We cannot evacuate, that would mean death for them and other patients under our care.”

And wounded patients keep coming in with severed limbs, severe burns and other life-threatening injuries. “It’s frightening,” he said.

A crowd of men, women and children that medical officials estimated at 35,000 crammed into the city’s main hospital, Shifa, hoping it would be spared in the coming attack.

Gaza was already in a humanitarian crisis due to a growing shortage of water and medical supplies caused by the Israeli siege. With some bakeries closing, residents said they were unable to buy bread. Israel has also cut off water, forcing many to rely on brackish wells.