Fierce fighting in Gaza City as Hamas fights Israeli advance

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Israeli soldiers walk through rubble, amid the ongoing ground invasion against Palestinian Islamist group Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun. EDITOR’S NOTE: REUTERS PHOTOGRAPHS WERE REVIEWED BY THE IDF AS PART OF THE CONDITIONS OF THE EMBED. NO PHOTOS WERE REMOVED.

 By Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Maytaal Angel Reuters

Israeli forces battled Hamas militants through shell-blasted buildings in Gaza City on Thursday as some 80 countries and organisations met in Paris to coordinate humanitarian aid and find ways to help wounded civilians escape the siege.

Residents in Gaza City said Israeli were fighting Hamas and other militants and that tanks were stationed around the city. They said Israeli forces were moving closer to two hospitals where thousands of displaced Palestinians were seeking shelter.

The Israeli military said its troops had advanced into the heart of Gaza City, Hamas’ main bastion and the biggest city in the Palestinian coastal enclave, while the Islamist group said its fighters had inflicted heavy losses.

Hamas’ armed wing on Wednesday released a video that appeared to show intense street battles alongside bombed out buildings in Gaza City.

Israeli tanks have met heavy resistance from Hamas fighters using underground tunnels to stage ambushes, according to sources with Iran-backed Hamas and the separate Islamic Jihad militant group.

As the Israel-Hamas war enters its second month, the United States said when the war does end Palestinians must govern Gaza.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday outlined Washington’s red lines and expectations for the besieged coastal territory, pushing back at Israeli comments that it would be responsible for security in Gaza indefinitely.

There should be “no reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza,” Blinken said at a press conference in Tokyo.

While Blinken said there may be a need for “some transition period” at the end of the conflict, but that post-crisis governance in Gaza must include Palestinian voices.

“It must include Palestinian-led governance and Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, is an integral part of what it envisions for a future Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have clarified they do not intend to occupy Gaza after the war, but they have yet to articulate how they might ensure security without maintaining a military presence. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005.

Israel launched its military assault on Gaza in response to a cross-border Hamas raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinian officials said 10,569 people had been killed as of Wednesday, 40% of them children. Israel says 33 of its soldiers have been killed.

SEA LANES FOR AID AND WOUNDED

A conference in Paris on Thursday, attended by Arab nations, Western powers, G20 members and NGO groups such as Doctors Without Borders will discuss measures to alleviate the suffering in Gaza, but without a pause in fighting expectations are low.

“The object is really to work with all the participants and also with Israel … to allow improved access,” a French presidential official told reporters ahead of the conference.

Among the options discussed will be setting up a maritime corridor to use sea lanes to ship humanitarian aid into Gaza and see how ships could be used to help evacuate the wounded.

Thousands of Palestinian civilians trudged in a forlorn procession out of the north of Gaza on Wednesday seeking refuge from Israeli air strikes and fierce ground fighting between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.

The exodus took place during a four-hour window announced by Israel, which has told residents to evacuate encircled northern parts of Gaza or risk being trapped in the violence. But the central and southern parts of the enclave also came under fire again.

Huge numbers of displaced people from among Gaza’s 2.3 million population are already crammed into schools, hospitals and other sites in the south.

Thousands of others remain in the north, including at Gaza City’s main Al Shifa hospital.

Israel has blamed Hamas for civilian deaths in Gaza, saying that it is using them as human shields and hiding arms and operations centres in residential areas.

“As deaths and injuries in Gaza continue to rise due to intensified hostilities, intense overcrowding and disrupted health, water, and sanitation systems pose an added danger: the rapid spread of infectious diseases,” the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

WHO said that more than 33,551 cases of diarrhoea had been reported since mid-October, the bulk of which was among children aged under five.

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