Israel expands ground assault into Gaza; fears rise over airstrikes near crowded hospitals

Gaza Health Ministry says death toll among Palestinians has passed 8,000, mostly women and minors


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Published: Mon 30 Oct 2023, 12:00 PM

Israeli troops and armour pushed deeper into the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, reaching built-up areas as the UN and medical staff warned that airstrikes are hitting closer to hospitals, where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.

The increasing ground operations came a day after 33 trucks carrying food, medicine and other supplies entered Gaza from Egypt, the largest convoy of humanitarian aid since the war between Israel and Hamas began. Relief workers said on Monday the assistance still fell far short of needs in Gaza, which has been under siege for weeks.

The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll among Palestinians passed 8,000, mostly women and minors, as Israeli tanks and infantry pursued what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “second stage” in the war ignited by Hamas’ brutal October 7 incursion.

The toll is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during the initial attack, also an unprecedented figure.

Israeli forces appeared to be driving deeper into Gaza from the north. Video released Monday by the military showed armoured vehicles moving among buildings and soldiers taking positions inside a house. The exact location was not known, but military footage on Saturday had shown troops moving through empty sandy areas near Gaza’s northern border fence.

The military said Monday that overnight its troops had killed dozens of militants who attacked from inside buildings and tunnels, and that strikes had destroyed a building Hamas was using as a staging post. It said that in the last few days, it had struck more than 600 militant targets, including weapons depots and anti-tank missile launching positions. The reports of targeting could not be independently confirmed.

Hamas’ military wing said its militants clashed with Israeli troops who entered the northwest Gaza Strip with small arms and anti-tank missiles. Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, including toward its commercial hub, Tel Aviv.

Communications were restored to most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people Sunday after over a day without phone and internet services amid bombardment that residents described as the most intense of the war.

Israel says most Gaza residents have heeded its orders to flee to the southern part of the besieged territory, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.

The 33 trucks carrying food, water and medicine that entered southern Gaza on Sunday from Egypt were an increase from the around 20 a day that have been entering. Aid workers have repeatedly said they need hundreds of trucks a day to meet the spiraling needs.

On Saturday, crowds of people broke into four facilities of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, taking food supplies.

The break-ins were “a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down,” said Thomas White, UNRWA’s Gaza director. “People are scared, frustrated and desperate.”

UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma said the warehouses did not contain any fuel, which has been in critically short supply since Israel cut off all shipments. Israel says Hamas would use it for military purposes and that the militant group is hoarding large fuel stocks in the territory for itself. That claim couldn’t be independently verified.

Israel’s siege has pushed Gaza's infrastructure nearly to collapse. With no central power for weeks, hospitals are struggling to keep emergency generators running to operate incubators and other life-saving equipment. UNRWA is trying to keep water pumps and bakeries running.

Last week, UN officials said hunger was growing.

President Joe Biden emphasised to Netanyahu in a call Sunday “the need to immediately and significantly” increase the entry of humanitarian aid, the US said.

Israeli authorities said they would soon let in more aid but did not specify how much. Elad Goren, the head of civil affairs at COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, also said Israel had opened two water lines in southern Gaza within the past week. The Associated Press could not independently verify that either line was functioning.

Meanwhile, crowded hospitals in northern Gaza came under growing threat. The UN said Monday that strikes hit near Gaza City's Shifa and Al-Quds hospitals and the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza in recent days.

All 10 hospitals still working in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders in recent days, the U.N.'s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said. Along with thousands of patients and staff, around 117,000 displaced people are staying in these facilities, it said.

Residents reported strikes near Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, where tens of thousands of civilians are sheltering.

Israel accuses Hamas of having a secret command post beneath the hospital but has not provided much evidence. Hamas denies the allegations.

Strikes hit within 50 meters (yards) of Al-Quds Hospital after it received two calls from Israeli authorities on Sunday ordering it to evacuate, the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said. Some windows were blown out, and rooms were covered in debris. It said 14,000 people are sheltering there.

Israel ordered Al-Quds Hospital to evacuate more than a week ago, but it and other medical facilities have refused, saying evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.

“Under no circumstances, hospitals should be bombed,” the director general of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Robert Mardini, told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

About 20,000 people were sheltering at Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, emergency director Dr. Mohammed Qandeel said.

“I brought my kids to sleep here,” said one displaced resident who gave her name only as Umm Ahmad. “I used to be afraid of my kids playing in the sand. Now their hands are dirty with the blood on the floor.”

An Israeli airstrike hit a two-story house in Khan Younis on Sunday, killing at least 13 people, including 10 from one family. The bodies were brought to Nasser Hospital, according to an AP journalist at the scene.

The military escalation has increased domestic pressure on Israel’s government to secure the release of 239 hostages seized by Hamas fighters during the Oct. 7 attack.

Hamas says it is ready to release all hostages if Israel releases all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons. Desperate family members of the Israeli captives met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange. Israel has dismissed the Hamas offer.

“If Hamas does not feel military pressure, nothing will move forward,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told families of the hostages Sunday.

The Israeli military has stopped short of calling its gradually expanding ground operations inside Gaza an all-out invasion, but casualties on both sides are expected to rise sharply as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants battle in dense residential areas.

Israel says it targets Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate among civilians, putting them in danger.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court on Sunday called the suffering of civilians “profound.”

Karim Khan called on Israel to respect international law but stopped short of accusing it of war crimes. He called Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack a serious violation of international humanitarian law. “The burden rests with those who aim the gun, missile or rocket in question,” he said. The ICC has been investigating the actions of Israeli and Palestinian authorities since 2014.

The fighting has raised concerns that the violence could spread across the region. Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have engaged in daily skirmishes along Israel’s northern border.

In the West Bank, at least four Palestinians were killed in clashes early Monday between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Jenin, the scene of repeated Israeli raids against gunmen. As of Sunday, Israeli forces and settlers killed 115 Palestinians, including 33 minors, in the West Bank, half of them during Israeli search-and-arrest operations, the U.N.'s OCHA said.

The Israeli military said early Monday that its aircraft hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there fell in open Israeli territory.

Roughly 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes because of violence along the border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon, according to the Israeli military.


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