Gaza Flooded in New Humanitarian Crisis
Two people have died and over 5,000 people have been evacuated from flood-damaged homes in northern Gaza in what the United Nations has called "a disaster area".
Four days of torrential rain has caused flooding so severe that many homes could only be accessed by rowing boat. Water was over two meters (more than six feet) deep in some places.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated tracts on earth and home mostly to impoverished refugees and their descendants.
"Large swathes of northern Gaza are a disaster area with water as far as the eye can see," the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) that administers refugee camps in the Palestinian territory, said in a statement on Saturday.
Severe weather in the form of heavy snowfall also paralyzed Palestinian cities such as Hebron in the occupied West Bank, as well as Jerusalem and parts of Israel's northern Galilee.
The Gaza government's Disaster Response Committee accused Israeli authorities of opening dams just east of the Gaza Strip on Friday, flooding numerous residential areas in nearby villages within the coastal territory.
Many people were trapped inside homes by rising waters. A 22-year-old Palestinian man died from smoke inhalation on Saturday after lighting a fire to warm his home.
Fuel shortages have caused daily life in the Gaza Strip for its 1.8 million residents to grind slowly to a halt since early November, as power plants and water pumps were forced to shut down, cutting off access to basic necessities and causing sewage to flood into some of the city's streets.
Israel allowed the entry of 450,000 liters of fuel, paid for by Qatar, into the Gaza Strip on Sunday to enable the Palestinian territory's only functioning power plant to resume. The Gulf state is spending $450 million in construction projects in Gaza and will pay $10 million to President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which ordered the fuel for the enclave from Israel.
The Gaza health ministry said over 100 people had been hurt as flood waters damaged poorly built homes in the coastal territory. Among those injured were people who had been hit by objects falling from inundated buildings or had been in car accidents on flooded roads.
Chris Gunness, an UNRWA spokesman, said areas near a refugee camp in northern Gaza "have become a massive lake with two-meter-high waters engulfing homes and stranding thousands."
Thousands of agency workers were evacuating stranded Palestinians to U.N. shelters, Gunness said.
Gaza's Hamas government said 5,246 people in all had been evacuated to schools and other centers used as temporary shelters in the past four days.
The territory lacks much basic civil infrastructure and lives under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade meant to cut off arms flows, but which also curbs imports of fuel, building supplies and basic goods.