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War on Gaza: Estimated 10,000 Palestinians buried under rubble, civil defence says

Rescuers say it could take three years to recover all bodies if heavy equipment doesn’t arrive soon 
Palestinians dig in the rubble of a collapsed building searching for people following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, in the southern of Gaza Strip, on 16 October 2023 (AFP)
Palestinians dig in the rubble of a collapsed building searching for people following an Israeli air strike in Rafah, in the southern of Gaza Strip, on 16 October 2023 (AFP)

There are an estimated 10,000 Palestinians buried under the rubble of buildings flattened by Israeli strikes in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian civil defence has said. 

It would take two to three years to recover all the bodies unless digging equipment, which has been destroyed by Israel, is urgently replaced and allowed into the war-ravaged strip, it added

In a press release published on Tuesday, the civil defence also warned of the spread of diseases from the decomposed bodies. 

It said high temperatures in the summer will likely increase the threat of epidemics, as heat accelerates decomposition of corpses.

“The General Directorate of Civil Defence renews its appeal to all relevant parties, led by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation… to urgently intervene,” the statement read. 

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It added that pressure was needed to “allow the entry of heavy equipment necessary to enable our crews to save the lives of those wounded by the ongoing Israeli bombing, as well as to extract the bodies of the martyrs that are decomposing under the rubble, and are causing a health disaster for the population.” 

After most Israeli troops pulled out from Gaza's populated areas on 7 April, rescuers have been able to reach areas previously deemed inaccessible. 

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They have recovered more than 700 bodies found in mass graves in al-Shifa hospital and Nasser hospital, the strip’s two biggest health facilities.

They have also launched fresh attempts to remove rubble in some areas in the northern Gaza Strip. 

Using basic tools, they recovered some decomposed corpses from under the debris of buildings earlier this week. 

However, they said their efforts are limited due to the lack of heavy digging machinery. 

“Civil defence crews in the northern Gaza governorate embarked on these efforts, with the support of residents and volunteers using available simple hand tools,” they said. 

“In light of the lack of heavy equipment such as bulldozers and excavators, these efforts will remain insufficient and will not meet the minimum requirements necessary to recover the bodies of thousands of martyrs.” 

Death toll likely to jump 

Palestinian officials previously estimated there were 7,000 people under rubble who have not been recovered and therefore not recorded in the health ministry’s death toll, which currently stands at over 34,500. 

The new estimate by the civil defence means the death toll could reach at least 44,500 once all bodies are recovered. 

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The majority of those killed and buried under debris are children and women. 

Rescuers say they have not been able to quickly recover dead bodies mainly due to the Israeli targeting of crew members and their heavy equipment. 

The civil defence says at least 67 of its members have been killed in Israeli air strikes since 7 October.  

Additionally, widespread destruction of infrastructure and roads is complicating rescue efforts. 

The UN estimates there are 37 million tonnes of debris in Gaza left by the intense Israeli bombardment of residential buildings for seven months.

It could take 14 years to safely clear the debris, according to Pehr Lodhammar, a senior officer from the United Nations Mine Action Service. 

“All I can say is that at least 10 percent of the ammunition that is being fired potentially fails to function…With 100 trucks we’re talking about 14 years of work with 100 trucks, so that’s 14 years with about 750,000 workdays - person workdays - to remove the debris,” Lodhammar said earlier this week.

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