Israeli forces battle Palestinian militants in south Gaza

Hamas says that Israel had launched a series of 'very violent raids' targeting the biggest southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah

By AFP

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Sun 10 Dec 2023, 1:33 PM

Israeli forces on Sunday fought Palestinian militants around southern Gaza's main city, as the UN chief decried divisions that had "paralysed" the Security Council's response to the two-months-old war.

Hamas, which runs Gaza and whose deadly October 7 attacks triggered the conflict, said on Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the biggest southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.

A source close to Hamas and another group told AFP that both militant groups were engaged in "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces near Khan Yunis, where an AFP journalist reported heavy strikes.

Palestinian militants also reported fighting in Jabalia and Gaza City's Shejaiya district in northern Gaza, while the Israeli army said early Sunday it had struck "over 250 terror targets" in the previous 24 hours.

Overnight strikes hit "a Hamas military communications site" and "underground tunnel shafts" in southern Gaza as well as "a Hamas military command" in Shejaiya, an army statement said.

The fighting has killed at least 17,700 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after the group's unprecedented attacks on October 7, when its fighters broke through Gaza's militarised border, killed about 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel on Saturday said that 137 captives remained in the Palestinian territory.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he regretted the Security Council's failure to offer solutions to the war, two days after a US veto prevented a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Addressing Qatar's Doha Forum, Guterres said the council was "paralysed by geostrategic divisions" and that the body's "authority and credibility were severely undermined" by its delayed response to the conflict.

"I reiterated my appeal for a humanitarian ceasefire to be declared," he told the forum.

"Regrettably, the Security Council failed to do it," he added. "I can promise, I will not give up."

Aid groups have sounded the alarm on the "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation in the narrow Palestinian territory, warning it is on the brink of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said 100 trucks carrying aid entered Gaza via Rafah on Saturday, "well below" the daily average before the war.

In Gaza City, an AFP journalist said thousands were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital, which was partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.

Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.

Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from Shejaiya, said he had fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he told AFP.

The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic", said Bushra Khalidi of aid group Oxfam.

An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced, according to UN figures.

With fighting intensifying in southern Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek shelter, many are running out of safe places to go.

The United Nations children's agency, UNICEF, said Saturday that nearly one million children had been forcibly displaced by the conflict.

"They are now being pushed further and further south into tiny, overcrowded areas without water, food or protection," said Adele Khodr of UNICEF.

"The restrictions and challenges being placed on the delivery of lifesaving aid... are another death sentence for children."

OCHA reported that Israeli forces on Saturday "detained dozens of Palestinian men and boys" in the northern city of Beit Lahia.

There was no immediate comment from the army. Israeli media have reported that Hamas militants had surrendered to Israeli forces in several locations across Gaza.

Footage published by Israeli media showed groups of men stripped down to their underwear, with some appearing to hand over their weapons.

Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi on Saturday urged his forces to "press harder" in their campaign against Hamas.

"We're seeing more and more terrorists killed, more and more terrorists wounded, and in recent days we're seeing terrorists surrendering -- this is a sign their network's falling apart," he said.

National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 "terrorists" had been killed, without elaborating on the source for the figure.

The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the Gaza campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue hostages on Thursday night.

Hamas said one captive, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation. His death was later confirmed by his kibbutz community of Beeri, one of the worst hit on October 7.

A one-week truce that collapsed on December 1 saw 105 hostages freed, including 80 Israelis released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

Mediator Qatar said on Sunday efforts to secure a new truce and release more hostages were ongoing despite the continued Israeli bombardment which was "narrowing the window" for a successful outcome.

"Our efforts as the state of Qatar along with our partners are continuing," Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told the Doha Forum.

"We are not going to give up."

The fighting in Gaza has spurred fears of a wider regional conflagration.

In Yemen, Iran-backed Huthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza.

The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates had shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the vessel from the coast of Yemen.

Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have also exchanged deadly cross-border fire.

The United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon said one of its position was hit on Saturday without causing casualties.

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