Israeli strikes on Gaza intensify as humanitarian crisis deepens

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People survey the destruction at Gaza's Jabalia refugee camp, following Israeli strikes on the enclave, October 14, 2023 in this still image from video obtained by REUTERS.

Israeli forces kept up their bombardment of Gaza on Monday after diplomatic efforts to arrange a ceasefire to allow foreign passport holders to leave and aid to be brought into the besieged Palestinian enclave failed.

Residents of Hamas-ruled Gaza said overnight air strikes were the heaviest yet as the conflict entered its 10th day with an Israeli ground offensive believed to be imminent.

Bombing carried on through the day, they said, and many buildings were flattened, trapping yet more people under the rubble. Israeli officials issued multiple warnings of Hamas rocket fire into Israel.

Diplomatic efforts have been underway to get aid into the enclave, which has endured unrelenting Israeli bombing since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants that killed 1,300 people – the bloodiest single day in the state’s 75-year history.

But Israel’s chief military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said there was no Gaza ceasefire and that Israel was continuing its operations.

“There are no such efforts under way at this time. If anything changes we will inform the public. We are continuing our fight against Hamas, this murderous organisation that carried this (the assaults) out.”

Israel has imposed a full blockade and is preparing a ground invasion to enter Gaza and destroy Hamas, which has continued to fire rockets at Israel since its brief cross-border assault. On Monday, rocket-warning sirens sounded in several towns in southern Israel, the Israeli military said.

Israeli troops and tanks are already massed on the border.

Authorities in Gaza said at least 2,750 people had so far been killed by the Israeli strikes, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded. A further 1,000 people were missing and believed to be under rubble.

With food, fuel and water running short, hundreds of tons of aid from several countries have been held up in Egypt pending a deal for its safe delivery to Gaza and the evacuation of some foreign passport holders through the Rafah border crossing.

Earlier on Monday, Egyptian security sources had told Reuters that an agreement had been reached to open the crossing to allow aid into the enclave.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement: “There is currently no truce and humanitarian aid in Gaza in exchange for getting foreigners out.”

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq told Reuters there was “no truth” to the reports about the crossing opening or a temporary ceasefire.

Egypt has said the crossing was rendered inoperable due to Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian side. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday the Israeli government had yet to take a stance that allowed the crossing to open.

Reuters journalists said a small crowd of people had gathered at the crossing, the only one not controlled by Israel, waiting to enter Egypt.

The United States had told its citizens in Gaza to go to the crossing. The U.S. government estimates the number of dual-citizen Palestinian-Americans in Gaza at 500 to 600.

Washington is also seeking to secure the release of 199 hostages that Israel says were taken by Hamas back into Gaza. Among them are elderly people, women and children and foreigners, including Americans.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sent military aid to Israel but also stressed the need to get humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians and urged Israel to follow the rules of war in its response to the Hamas attacks.

HEAVY BOMBING

In Gaza’s north, where Israel says Hamas militants are hiding in an elaborate tunnel network, local people said Israeli aircraft bombed areas around the Al-Quds hospital early on Monday. Surrounding houses were damaged, forcing hundreds of people to take shelter in the Red Crescent-run hospital.

Israeli planes also bombed three headquarters of the Civil Emergency and Ambulance Service in Gaza City, killing five people and paralyzing the rescue services in those areas, health officials said.

Israel has urged Gazans to evacuate south, which hundreds of thousands have already done in the enclave, home to about 2.3 million people. Hamas has told people to ignore Israel’s message and residents fear Israeli air strikes in southern Gaza too.

In southern Gaza, five members a family were killed in Khan Younis refugee camp. Their neighbour, Suhail Baker, 45, said he was woken by the sound of an explosion.

“We woke up in horror, and we see them dismembered, it took a long time to remove the rubble by the bulldozers to recover the bodies,” said Baker.

On a nearby street, Abu Ahmed, an elderly man sitting outside his house, said: “Israel has taken a decision to kill every last one of us.”

Reserves of fuel at all hospitals across the Gaza Strip are expected to last only around 24 more hours, putting thousands of patients at risk, the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) said early on Monday.

More than one million people – almost half the population of Gaza – have been displaced within the enclave, the United Nations said, and it is struggling to cope with their needs.

For the fifth consecutive day, Gaza has had no electricity, pushing vital services, including health, water and sanitation to the brink of collapse. People are consuming brackish water from agricultural wells, raising concerns over the spread of disease.

BLINKEN IN ISRAEL

U.S. officials have warned that the war between Israel and Hamas could escalate after cross-border clashes between Israel and militants from Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel for talks on Monday, Iran said the United States should be held to account for its role in the conflict. 

American aircraft carriers have headed to the region and Israel said on Monday it would evacuate residents of 28 villages on the border with Lebanon after one came under a missile attack by Iranian-backed Hezbollah on Sunday. Israeli media said a civilian was killed.

Reuters video journalist Issam Abdallah was killed on the Lebanese side of the border on Friday.

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