Smoke rises from explosions during rocket strikes in Gaza on October 28, 2023 seen from Sderot, Israel. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Israel on Sunday intensified its attacks on Gaza, calling for civilians to flee south where it vowed aid would increase, as the Red Cross warned of “intolerable” suffering.
The United Nations warned that thousands more civilians could die in Gaza as Israel declared that the war had entered a “second stage”, stepping up its ground operations in the territory.
Israel unleashed a massive bombing campaign after Hamas gunmen stormed across the border on 7 October, killing 1 400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 230 hostages, according to Israeli officials.
Relentless Israeli strikes on Gaza have killed more than 8 000 people, half of them children, the health ministry in the territory said.
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, voiced shock on Saturday at the “intolerable level of human suffering”, urging all sides to de-escalate the conflict.
“This is a catastrophic failing that the world must not tolerate.”
Thousands of buildings have been flattened in the overcrowded territory of 2.4 million people, with more than half the population displaced as Israel imposed a near-total siege.
Israeli fighter jets dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Saturday, warning residents that the area was now a “battlefield”, that shelters in northern Gaza were not safe, and people should “evacuate immediately”.
The army delivered similar warnings earlier in its campaign, but many who fled south have returned home after failing to find refuge from Israel’s bombs.
Hamas authorities reported on Sunday that a “large number” of people had been killed overnight in strikes on two refugee camps in northern Gaza.
The intense strikes against Hamas provided cover for Israeli ground forces to step up operations ahead of an expected full-blown invasion.
“Since early Friday evening, combined combat forces of armour, combat engineers and infantry have been operating on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israeli army said late on Saturday.
“This is the second state of the war whose goals are clear: destroying the military and leadership capabilities of Hamas, and bringing the hostages back home,” Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu told journalists.
Hamas’s armed wing said it was ready to release hostages if Israel freed the Palestinian prisoners it was holding.
“The price to pay for the large number of hostages in our hands is to empty the [Israeli] prisoners of all Palestinian prisoners,” Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Obeida said.
Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said the group stood ready to make an “immediate” exchange.
This week, the Brigades said “almost 50” of the hostages had been killed in Israeli strikes.
Facing increasing anger over the fate of the captives as Israel steps up its war on Hamas, Netanyahu met representatives of hostage relatives on Saturday.
Ifat Kalderon, whose cousin Ofer Kalderon is believed to be held in Gaza along with members of his family, said she supported the idea of a prisoner release in exchange for hostages.
“Take them, we don’t need them here. I want my family and all the hostages to come back home,” she said.
Netanyahu made no commitment to any exchange deal.
United Nations human rights chief Volker Turk has warned of the “possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza”, saying “thousands more civilians” could die.
And as Israel sends troops and tanks further into Gaza, analysts cautioned of possible fallout threatening the entire Middle East.
A UN peacekeeper was injured on Saturday by shelling in south Lebanon, the mission’s spokesperson said, hours after reporting a hit at its headquarter as Israel-Lebanon border skirmishes intensified.
Violence has also risen sharply in the West Bank, with 109 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers, including 33 children, according to the UN.
‘Stop this madness’
European foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has demanded a “pause of hostilities” to allow aid into Gaza, while the UN General Assembly has called for an “immediate humanitarian truce”.
According to a United Nations report, “on Friday afternoon the UN General Assembly approved a nonbinding resolution calling for a humanitarian truce in Gaza leading to a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The resolution “firmly rejects any attempts at the forced transfer of the Palestinian civilian population”. The 193-member assembly adopted the measure by an overwhelming vote of 121 to 14, with 44 abstentions. Le Monde reported that France voted for the measure; Germany, Italy and Britain abstained; while Austria and the United States voted against it.
Addressing several hundred thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Istanbul on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “the main culprit behind the massacre unfolding in Gaza is the West”.
Israel’s military campaign has displaced more than 1.4 million people inside Gaza, according to the UN, while supplies of food, water and power have all but halted and fuel deliveries have been cut off.
One convoy of aid was allowed in on 21 October, but only 84 trucks have crossed since then.
All communications and phone networks were cut across Gaza late on Friday, sparking alarm as the Palestinian Red Crescent warned that emergency calls were not getting through.
Human Rights Watch warned that the blackout could provide “cover for mass atrocities”.
On Sunday morning, global network monitor Netblocks said connectivity in Gaza was being restored, and Palestinian telecoms provider Jawwal said communication services were gradually resuming. — AFP