Israel bombs Gaza as UN warns civilians face 'grave peril'

More than 80 per cent of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been driven from their homes

By AFP

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An Israeli army self-propelled artillery howitzer fires rounds from a position near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. — AFP
An Israeli army self-propelled artillery howitzer fires rounds from a position near the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel. — AFP

Published: Thu 28 Dec 2023, 8:17 PM

Last updated: Thu 28 Dec 2023, 11:01 PM

Israeli forces on Thursday heavily bombed the besieged Gaza Strip as the centre of fierce combat against Hamas moves steadily south, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

The war, which started with Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel, has devastated much of northern Gaza as air and artillery strikes and house-to-house fighting have become heaviest in the southern city of Khan Younis.

Ashraf Al Qudra, spokesman for the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, reported more than 200 deaths "including entire families" over the past 24 hours in strikes across the territory.

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An AFP correspondent reported heavy artillery strikes overnight particularly on Khan Younis.

The Israeli army has deployed an additional brigade to Khan Younis, the hometown of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, said military spokesman Daniel Hagari.

More than 80 per cent of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been driven from their homes, the UN says, and many now live in cramped shelters or makeshift tents in the far south, in and around the city of Rafah near Egypt.

UN World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for "urgent steps to alleviate the grave peril" facing Gaza's people, including "terrible injuries, acute hunger and... severe risk of disease".

French President Emmanuel Macron in a call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his "deepest concern at the very heavy civilian toll" and stressed "the need to work towards a lasting ceasefire," Macron's office said.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which is considered a "terrorist" group by the US and EU. The Palestinian militants also took around 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in captivity -- a source of intense grief and anxiety for their families who have held protests demanding urgent action to "bring them home", the latest in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Israel's relentless aerial bombardment and ground invasion with troops and tanks have killed at least 21,320 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The Israeli army says 167 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza.

An Israeli siege has deprived Gazans of food, water, fuel and medicine. The severe shortages have only been sporadically eased by humanitarian aid convoys entering primarily via Egypt.

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"We are tired of everything," said Ekhlas Shnenou who fled her Gaza City home. "Enough with the war, enough with the pain, enough with the hunger."

One of the many people displaced, 28-year-old Iman Al Masry, recently gave birth to quadruplets in a hospital in southern Gaza after fleeing her family's home in the devastated north.

The arduous journey "affected my pregnancy", she said, recounting that she gave birth by C-section on December 18 to two girls and two boys, one of whom was too fragile to leave hospital.

"They are very slim," she said of the three other infants, speaking in a schoolroom turned shelter in Deir Al Balah. "It's cold and windy and there's no bathtub... I just use wipes."

The Palestinian Red Crescent society reported fresh shelling on Thursday near Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis, killing at least 10 people.

It decried in a statement the "intensification" of Israeli strikes in the area of the facility, already hit earlier this week, where about 14,000 Palestinians are sheltering.

Violence has also flared across the Israel-occupied West Bank, with at least 314 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers since October 7, according to the territory's health ministry.

Israeli forces overnight raided money exchange shops across the West Bank which the military said had provided funds for armed groups.

In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, one man was killed by the troops, according to the health ministry. An AFP journalist saw Palestinians hurl Molotov cocktails at the Israeli forces.

A United Nations report on Thursday said the human rights situation in the West Bank was rapidly deteriorating and urged Israel to "end unlawful killings" against the Palestinian population.

"The use of military tactics and weapons in law enforcement contexts, the use of unnecessary or disproportionate force, and the enforcement of broad, arbitrary and discriminatory movement restrictions that affect Palestinians are extremely troubling," UN rights chief Volker Turk said in a statement.

Israel has traded heavy cross-border fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon since the Gaza war broke out, and warned it will step up military action unless the group's militants withdraw further away from the border.

The army on Thursday said it intercepted a drone that crossed in from Lebanon over northern Israel, a day after a drone crashed in the annexed Golan Heights.

Another Iran ally, Yemen's Houthi rebel group, has launched repeated drone and missile attacks at Israel, which have been intercepted in the air, and fired at passing cargo ships in the Red Sea, disrupting international trade.


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