Israeli warplanes struck parts of the Gaza Strip in relentless bombardment, hitting some of the dwindling bits of land it had told Palestinians to evacuate to in the south.
The strikes came a day after the United States vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, despite its wide support.
Gaza residents “are being told to move like human pinballs — ricocheting between ever-smaller slivers of the south, without any of the basics for survival,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council before the vote.
Guterres said Gaza was at a “breaking point” with the humanitarian support system at risk of collapse, and that he feared “the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region.”
Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt are effectively sealed, leaving 2.3 million Palestinians with no option other than to seek refuge within the territory 40km long by about 11km wide.
A Palestinian woman holds her child after an Israeli strike on her neighbourhood in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Photo / AP
With the war now in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,400, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
Two hospitals in central and southern Gaza received the bodies of 133 people from Israeli bombings over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Saturday.
Israel holds the Hamas militants responsible for civilian casualties, accusing them of using civilians as human shields, and says it has made considerable efforts with evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way. It says 93 Israeli soldiers have died in the ground offensive after Hamas’ deadly October 7 raid in Israel that killed about 1200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages.
Hamas said on Saturday that it continued its rocket firing into Israel.
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In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border — one area where the Israeli army had ordered civilians to evacuate to. In a colourful classroom there, knee-high children’s tables were strewn with rubble.
“We now live in the Gaza Strip and are governed by the American law of the jungle. America has killed human rights,” said Rafah resident Abu Yasser al-Khatib. “The Palestinian people will not leave and do not want to leave.”
In northern Gaza, Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold despite heavy resistance from Hamas. Tens of thousands of residents are believed to remain despite evacuation orders, six weeks after troops and tanks rolled in.
The Israeli military said on Saturday that its forces fought and killed Hamas militants and found weapons inside a school in Shijaia in a densely populated neighbourhood of Gaza City. It said soldiers discovered a tunnel shaft in the same neighbourhood where they found an elevator, and in a separate incident, militants shot at troops from an UN-run school in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.
Smoke rises from the Gaza Strip after Israeli strikes. Photo / AP
More than 2200 Palestinians have been killed since the December 1 collapse of a week-long truce, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but more than 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza.
On Saturday, a kibbutz that came under attack on October 7 said 25-year-old hostage Sahar Baruch had died in captivity. His captors said Baruch was killed during a failed rescue mission by Israeli forces Friday. The Israeli military only confirmed that two soldiers were seriously wounded in an attempted hostage rescue and that no hostages were freed.
With no new ceasefire in sight and a trickle of humanitarian aid reaching just a few parts of Gaza, residents reported severe food shortages. Nine of 10 people in northern Gaza reported spending at least one full day and night without food, according to a World Food Program assessment completed during the truce. Two out of three people in the south said the same. The WFP called the situation “alarming.
“I am very hungry,” said Mustafa al-Najjar, sheltering in a UN-run school in the devastated Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. “We are living on canned food and biscuits and this is not sufficient.”
While adults can cope with hunger, “it’s extremely difficult and painful when you see your young son or daughter crying because they are hungry and you are not able to do anything,” he said.
Israeli military helicopter lands near the Gaza Strip border. Photo / AP
On Saturday, 100 trucks carrying unspecified aid entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. That amount is still well below the daily average before the war.
Despite growing international pressure, President Joe Biden’s administration remains opposed to an open-ended ceasefire, arguing it would enable Hamas to continue posing a threat to Israel. Officials have expressed misgivings in recent days about the civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis but have not pushed publicly for Israel to wind down the war.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has argued that “a ceasefire is handing a prize to Hamas.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued to speak with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere as frustration grew with the US stance. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan has said the US veto of the Security Council resolution showed Washington’s isolation.
“From now on, humanity won’t think of the USA. supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.
Fidan and the Palestinian, Saudi, Qatari, Nigerian, Indonesian, Egyptian and Jordanian ministers were to meet Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday.
Protesters at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai called for a ceasefire, despite restrictions on demonstrations.
Israel has expanded its blistering air and ground campaign into southern Gaza, sending tens of thousands fleeing.
“It was a night of heavy gunfire and shelling, as every night,” Taha Abdel-Rahman, a resident of Khan Younis, said by phone.
Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren coastline in the south, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians there described desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and poor hygiene facilities.
“We are living here in a tough cold. There are no bathrooms,” said Soad Qarmoot, who was forced to leave her home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.
“I am a cancer patient,” Qarmoot said as children huddled around a fire. “There is no mattress for me to sleep on. I am sleeping on the sand. It’s freezing.”
Imad al-Talateeny, who fled Gaza City, said Muwasi lacks basic services to accommodate the growing number of displaced families.
“I lack everything to feel (like) a human,” he said.
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