/ 29 December 2023

Israel bombs Gaza as UN warns civilians face ‘grave peril’

Israel Hamas War: Gaza Death Toll Surpasses 20,000 As Famine Looms
People inspect damage to their homes caused by Israeli air strikes on December 28, 2023 in Rafah, Gaza. More than 20,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since the 7 October Hamas attacks in Israel, according to Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry. Whilst 93 per cent of 2.3 million Gazans are "acutely food insecure," according to the World Food Programme. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Israeli forces heavily bombed the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday as the centre of fierce combat 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, and the bombardment and fighting has intensified especially in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

The Israeli army said it had deployed an additional brigade to Khan Yunis, hometown of Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, where AFP correspondents reported heavy and sustained air and artillery strikes.

The Palestinian Red Crescent society reported that shelling killed at least 10 people near the city’s Al-Amal hospital, an area where it said about 14,000 people are sheltering.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas in retaliation for the October 7 attack, which left about 1,140 people dead, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment and ground invasion have killed at least 21,320 people, mostly women and children, according to Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry.

UN World Health Organization 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”.

The Israeli army says 167 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza in its fight against Hamas which Israel, the United States and European Union consider a “terrorist” group.

Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for the Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday reported an additional 200 deaths, “including entire families”, over the past 24 hours in strikes.

Hamas on October 7 also took 250 hostages, more than half of whom remain in captivity — a source of intense anxiety for their families who protested in Jerusalem with the demand to “bring them home”.

The woman thought to have been the oldest female hostage, US-Israeli Judith Weinstein Haggai, 70, was confirmed to have died in the initial attack, her kibbutz community Nir Oz said Thursday.

Nir Oz said Haggai was “murdered in the massacre”, and that her body remains in Gaza.

More than 80 percent of the territory’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, around the city of Rafah near Egypt.

In the central al-Maghazi refugee camp, which was targeted on Sunday by a strike that killed at least 70 people, resident Waleed Mohammed Aeid voiced his pain and frustration.

“They told us to go to Rafah, but we don’t want to,” he said. “Why? To go live in the streets there? 

“All the neighbourhood here was evacuated. They bombed the school, but we didn’t leave because we don’t have anywhere else to go.”

Quadruplets born in war

An Israeli siege imposed after October 7, following years of crippling blockade, has deprived Gazans of food, water, fuel and medicine.

The severe shortages have been only sporadically eased by humanitarian aid convoys entering primarily via Egypt.

“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.”

Israel said Thursday it had given preliminary approval to the Mediterranean island nation of Cyprus for a “maritime lifeline” to ship aid to Gaza, a plan in the works for more than a month.

“There’s a basic authorisation to use this route, but there are still some logistical problems that are waiting to be solved,” said Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat.

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 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, speaking in a schoolroom turned shelter in Deir al-Balah. “It’s cold and windy and there’s no bathtub… I just use wipes.”

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 soldiers.

A UN report Thursday said the human rights situation in the West Bank was rapidly deteriorating and urged Israel to “end unlawful killings” against the Palestinian population.

UN rights chief Volker Turk decried especially “the use of military tactics and weapons” in law enforcement and “the use of unnecessary or disproportionate force”.

Mideast tensions flare

The bloodiest ever Gaza war has sharply heightened tensions between Israel and its long-time arch foe Iran, which supports armed groups across the Middle East.

Iran blamed Israel for a missile strike in Syria on Monday that killed the senior Iranian military commander Razi Moussavi, whose mass funeral took place in Tehran on Thursday.

The crowd chanted “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led a prayer over the body of Moussavi, a top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations arms the Quds Force.

Tehran has vowed to avenge the death of the most senior Guards general killed since the US assassination of Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in 2020.

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

Another Iran ally, Yemen’s Huthi rebel group, has launched repeated drone and missile attacks at Israel, which have been intercepted. It has also targeted ships in the Red Sea, disrupting international trade.

© Agence France-Presse