Israel bombards Gaza as world leaders call for pause in conflict to let aid in

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Palestinians look on during a search for casualties at the site of Israeli strikes on houses, in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 25, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose Reuters

Israel’s military intensified its bombing of southern Gaza overnight after one of the deadliest days for Palestinians since the conflict began as world leaders called for a halt to fighting to allow aid into the besieged enclave.

Amid concerns the Israel-Hamas conflict will spread across the Middle East, Israel’s military said its jets struck Syrian army infrastructure and mortar launchers in response to rockets launched from Iran ally Syria.

The military did not provide further details. It did not accuse Syria’s army of firing the two rockets, which set off air raid sirens in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Citing a military source, Syrian state news agency (SANA) said the Israeli attack killed 8 soldiers and wounded 7 more in an “aerial aggression” near the southwestern city of Deraa.

The United States and Russia are leading international calls for a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow aid into Gaza where Palestinians are living in harrowing conditions.

A total of 704 Palestinians, including 305 children, were killed on Tuesday, the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said, a toll the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said was the highest reported in a single day since the conflict began nearly three weeks ago.

Israel launched the strikes on Gaza after Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7 in a rampage that killed 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke by phone on Tuesday and agreed on broader diplomacy “to maintain stability across the region and prevent the conflict from expanding,” the White House said.

Deadly clashes have intensified between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and resurged between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah armed group along the Israeli-Lebanon border.

Iran, which has sought regional ascendancy for decades, backs both Hezbollah and Hamas, and has warned Israel to stop its onslaught on Gaza.

Israeli forces on an overnight raid in the occupied West Bank came under fire by a group of Palestinians whom the military then hit with a drone, the Israeli military said. Palestinian officials said three people were killed.

Since Oct.7, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank clashes with the Israeli military, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israel’s military also said it targeted a cell of Hamas divers attempting to enter Israel by sea near Kibbutz Zikim. There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the incident.

The U.S. has advised Israel to hold off on a planned ground assault as Washington tries to free more of the 200-plus hostages Hamas is still holding captive in Gaza.

However, when asked was if he was urging Israel to delay its ground invasion, U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters: “The Israelis are making their own decisions.”

In a statement released on social media, the Palestinian health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said at least 5,791 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli bombardments on the enclave since Oct. 7, including 2,360 children.

US, RUSSIA OFFER RIVAL PROPOSALS

Late on Tuesday eight trucks with water, food and medicine entered Gaza from Egypt. U.N. agencies said more than 20 times current deliveries were needed for the narrow coastal strip’s 2.3 million people.

At the United Nations, the United States and Russia put forward rival plans on humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians. Washington has called for pauses in the fighting and Russia wants a humanitarian ceasefire. A pause is generally considered less formal and shorter than a ceasefire.

“The whole world is expecting from the Security Council a call for a swift and unconditional ceasefire,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the Security Council. Arab states firmly back a call for a humanitarian ceasefire amid widespread destruction in Gaza.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week also called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

“While we remain opposed to a ceasefire, we think humanitarian pauses linked to the delivery of aid that still allow Israel to conduct military operations to defend itself are worth consideration,” a senior U.S. official said.

HOSPITALS RUNNING OUT OF FUEL

Doctors in Gaza say patients arriving at hospitals are showing signs of disease caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation after more than 1.4 million people fled their homes in the enclave for temporary shelters.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said more than one-third of hospitals in Gaza and nearly two-thirds of primary health care clinics had shut due to damage or lack of fuel.

UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, warned in a post on messaging platform X that it would halt operations in Gaza on Wednesday night because of the lack of fuel.

However, the Israeli military on Tuesday reaffirmed it would bar the entry of fuel to prevent Hamas from seizing it.

Qatari mediators are urging Hamas to quicken the pace of hostage releases to include women and children and to do so without expecting Israeli concessions, said three diplomats and a source in the region familiar with the talks.

The Gulf state, in coordination with the U.S., is leading mediation talks with Hamas and Israel over the hostage release.

Hamas has so far released four hostages – a mother and daughter with dual U.S.-Israel nationality on Friday and two Israeli civilian women on Monday.

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