Israel intensifies Gaza strikes, US alarmed

Military strikes more than 450 targets in Gaza from land, sea and air in one day

By Reuters

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Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. — Reuters
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. — Reuters

Published: Fri 8 Dec 2023, 8:02 PM

Israel sharply stepped up strikes on the Gaza Strip, pounding the length of the Palestinian enclave and killing hundreds in a new, expanded phase of the war that Washington said veered from Israeli promises to do more to protect civilians.

The Israeli military said on Friday it had struck more than 450 targets in Gaza from land, sea and air over the past 24 hours — the most since a truce collapsed last week and about double the daily figures typically reported since then.

With most Gazans now displaced and unable to access any aid, hospitals overrun and food running out, the main UN agency there said society was "on the verge of a full-blown collapse" and its ability to protect people there was "reducing fast".

Residents and the Israeli military both reported intensified fighting in both northern areas, where Israel had previously said its troops had largely completed their tasks last month, and in the south where they mounted a new assault this week.

Israeli soldiers advance in their vehicles at a position near the Gaza border. — AFP
Israeli soldiers advance in their vehicles at a position near the Gaza border. — AFP

Gaza's health ministry reported 350 people killed on Thursday, bringing the death toll from Israel's two-month campaign in Gaza to 17,487, with thousands more missing and presumed buried under rubble. More strikes were reported on Friday morning in Khan Younis in the south, the Nusseirat camp in the centre and Gaza City in the north.

Israel's military said 94 Israeli soldiers had been killed fighting in Gaza since its ground invasion of the enclave began.

An Israeli commander, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, said in a video message recorded in Khan Younis that his forces were fighting house to house and "shaft to shaft", a reference to tunnel shafts. As he spoke, gunshots rang out in the background.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Washington on Thursday that it was imperative that Israel took steps to protect Gaza's civilian population.

Palestinian children get water from a pipe, as displaced Palestinians who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp in Khan Younis. — Reuters
Palestinian children get water from a pipe, as displaced Palestinians who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp in Khan Younis. — Reuters

"And there does remain a gap between...the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we're seeing on the ground," he told a press conference.

With the fighting now extended across both halves of the Gaza Strip at the same time, residents say it has become almost impossible to find refuge.

Israel says it is providing detail about which areas are safe and how to reach them, and blames Hamas for harm that befalls civilians by operating among them, which Hamas denies.

Hamas reported the most intense clashes with Israeli forces were taking place in the north in Gaza City's Shejaia district, as well as in the south in Khan Younis, where Israelis reached the heart of the enclave's second-biggest city on Wednesday.

The Israeli military's Arabic-language spokesman posted to social media that troops were operating "forcefully against Hamas and terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip, especially in the Khan Younis area and the northern Strip".

He said all residents must leave the Jabaliya and Zeitoun areas in the north, as well as Shejaia and the old city in Gaza City. In the south, residents seeking shelter should head along the coast, with the main north-south route through the spine of the enclave now "a battlefield", he said.

Reuters journalists in the southern Gaza Strip have seen dead and wounded overrunning the main Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, where there was no room on the floor on Friday for arriving patients sprawled across bloodsmeared tiles.

"We are staying in an area that is, according to maps, a safe area," said Mohamed Al Amouri, adjusting an oxygen mask for his school-aged son who lay on a hospital bed in soccer shorts with his legs bandaged and his body lacerated.

"Children were on the streets playing, living life normally... we went out after the hit, hearing screams, to find youth, children, women and men in body parts - among them martyrs and injured."

In Rafah, further south hard against the border with Egypt, Thaer Kadeeh is living with his family in a makeshift tent from sheets of thin plastic.

"We don't sleep. Fear, hunger and cold, the three combined and no one is looking out for us," he told Reuters. "You try to make the feeling of hunger go away for like an hour, but then the child asks again for food."

Residents reached by telephone elsewhere in Gaza described similar scenes of desperation. With the fighting now in all directions, there was no place left to flee, said Yamen, sheltering at a school in central Gaza with his family.

"Inside the school is like outside it: the same feeling of fear of near death, the same suffering of starvation," he said. "Every day we say we somehow survived. But for how long?"

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Thomas White, Gaza head of UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, wrote on X: "Civil order is breaking down in Gaza - the streets feel wild, particularly after dark - some aid convoys are being looted and UN vehicles stoned. Society is on the brink of full-blown collapse."

Ramy Abdu, head of the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, posted pictures showing severe damage to the vast medieval Great Omari Mosque, the most important landmark in Gaza's Old City, apparently hit for the first time. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

A Hamas official accused Israeli forces of a "heinous crime against innocent civilians" after images of Palestinian men stripped to their underwear in Gaza circulated on social media. The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was concerned by the images and all detainees must be treated with humanity and dignity.

The Israeli government responded that the images showed military-age men in areas that were Hamas strongholds.


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