Horror and heartache among innocents on both sides as Middle East fighting wo…

The death toll continues to mount in battered Gaza with hundreds of children among the dead and the traumatised, including these three terrified, injured boys. In Israel, a British mother was laid to rest with her two daughters, killed by Hamas in in the October 7 massacres along with more than 1,400 other Jews and foreign nationals.

The harrowing scenes are typical of too many from a Middle East war triggered by the Islamic fanatics’ murderous rampage. Death, injury and hopelessness have taken over a troubled region once more.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner of the Israel Defence Forces said his “heart weeps” for civilians in Gaza but insisted the situation “cannot remain as it was”.

He called it a “tragedy on both sides of the fence”, adding: “I hope the people of Gaza will have the peace they deserve, just as the people of Israel deserve.”

There is little immediate hope of a brighter future in this shattered land as Israel continues to prepare for its ground offensive into Gaza.

The Palestinian territory is run by Hamas and it is where the terrorists are holding more than 200 hostages snatched in their raids.

Twelve British nationals have been killed and a further five remain missing, feared to have been kidnapped.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night that his forces are set to move in and the timing of would “be reached by consensus”. He added: “We have already killed thousands of terrorists and this is only the beginning.”

Israel has reportedly agreed to a delay so the US can rush missile defences to the tinderbox region.

READ MORE: Hamas doesn’t fear Israel and will ‘fight to the end’ against Gaza invasion

It is in a bid prevent a war from spreading to neighbouring nations.

Nearly a dozen air defence systems are being sent to protect US troops serving in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

But at the Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, the horrible toll of this conflict continues.

Three distraught boys clung to each other for comfort on a hospital bed as blood covered their small bodies and tears flowed down their terrorised faces. Their parents were nowhere to be seen.

In another sobering image a helpless father cradles his son, his hair matted with dried blood, as they await treatment.

They are the some of the latest victims of retaliatory Israeli missile strikes. The Hamas-run health ministry said 6,547 people, including 2,704 children, have been killed so far since the bombardment began.

Humanitarian agencies fear more than 1,500 – including hundreds of children – remain buried under the rubble of obliterated buildings.

Some 600,000 Palestinians have also been displaced by the bombing and the warning from Israel to evacuate northern Gaza.

Although aid trucks have started entering the enclave via Egypt with food, water and medicines, the UN Relief and Works Agency says it is a “drop in the ocean” of what is required to care for the displaced sheltering in 150 of its facilities.

International calls for aid increased yesterday.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stopped short of ­calling for a ceasefire, reiterating Israel “has the right to protect itself in line with international law”.

But he told MPs yesterday that “pauses” in the fighting were needed to allow safe deliveries of essential supplies. Yet the reality is that time is running out to save the lives of more innocents in Gaza.

Air strikes have damaged hospitals and destroyed ambulances, generators are running out of fuel, while shortages of medicine, equipment and specialised personnel mean that hospital still open are barely able to treat casualties.

With no safe passage out of the territory, sick children and stricken families are being denied the right to lifesaving, specialised treatment, agencies have warned.

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Save the Children said at least 870 infants are missing and feared trapped under debris.

Charity director Jason Lee said: “It is unconscionable that there are hundreds of children trapped under the rubble, with rescue teams struggling to reach them.

“They will be in extreme pain, terrified, alone and waiting for help. If there is not a ceasefire, if the siege is not lifted, help will simply not come for many.

“All parties must ensure children who need specialised life-saving care can receive it outside of Gaza.

“They have been through unimaginable horror.

“They’ve lost their homes, their loved ones, their safety. We must make every effort to ensure ­thousands more don’t lose their lives. All parties must agree to an immediate ceasefire. With every hour that passes, more children’s lives will be the cost.”

As Israel continued its barrage yesterday, many of the 2.2 million trapped in the narrow strip are finding it increasingly difficult to access find food and shelter.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are burying unidentified dead in mass graves, with a number instead of a name, it was claimed.

Some families are using bracelets in the hope of tracing loved ones if killed. In Khan Younis, Ali Daba has tied purple and black bracelets to the wrists of his nine children.

He said: “It’s just in case something happens. I’ve seen bodies ripped apart. If they are in pieces this way, I will recognise them from the bracelets.”

Aid workers for Humanity and Inclusion, an independent charity working in Gaza, are battling to provide support to the vulnerable sheltering in community centres and schools. Chief executive George Graham said: “If aid isn’t allowed to get in, the scale of ­suffering will be unimaginable.”

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