Israel pounds Gaza’s north as it steps up ground assault



Palestinians in northern Gaza reported fierce air and artillery strikes early on Monday as Israeli troops backed by tanks pressed into the enclave with a ground assault that prompted more international calls for civilians to be protected.

Medical authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2.3 million people, said 8,005 people – including 3,324 minors – had been killed. The Gaza government’s media office said 116 medics and 35 journalists have been killed since the conflict erupted.

Israeli air strikes hit areas near Gaza City’s Shifa and Al-Quds hospitals, and Palestinian fighters clashed with Israeli forces in a border area east of the city of Khan Younis, in the enclave’s south, Palestinian media said.

There was no comment from Hamas or the Israeli military on Monday’s fighting.

The bombardments came hours after Israel released images of battle tanks on the west coast of the Palestinian enclave, signalling a potential effort to surround Gaza’s main city two days after the Israeli government ordered expanded ground incursions across its eastern border.

Some pictures posted online also appeared to show Israeli soldiers waving an Israeli flag deep inside Gaza. Reuters could not verify the images.

Israel’s self-declared “second phase” of a three-week war against Hamas fighters has been largely kept from public view, with forces moving under darkness and a telecommunications blackout cutting off Palestinians.

The phone and internet cuts appeared to ease on Sunday, but telecoms provider Paltel said Israeli air strikes had again knocked out internet and phone service in parts of the enclave’s northern sections.

The outages have severely hampered rescue operations for casualties of brutal Israeli barrages.

The reported strikes near hospitals came after the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Sunday it had received warnings from Israeli authorities to immediately evacuate al-Quds hospital, where some 14,000 people have sought shelter.

Israel has accused Hamas of locating command centres and other military infrastructure in Gaza hospitals, which the group denies.

Palestinian officials said about 50,000 people had also taken shelter in Shifa Hospital, adding that they were concerned about Israeli threats to the facility.

Israel has tightened its blockade and bombarded the besieged enclave relentlessly. It has also stepped up operations against groups in the West Bank, killing scores of Palestinians and arresting hundreds.

Two Palestinians were killed and nine injured on Monday during an Israeli raid on the West Bank city of Jenin and its refugee camp, Palestinian official news agency WAFA said.

Calls for pause

The stepped-up attacks by Israel coincided with a mounting international outcry for a “humanitarian pause” to allow aid in.

Qatar-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas continued on Sunday, a source briefed on the talks told Reuters, and included discussions about the possible release of hostages.

Hamas wants a five-day humanitarian pause in Israel’s operations to allow aid and fuel into the besieged Gaza Strip in return for the release of all civilian hostages held by the fighters, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.

More than half the hostages held by Hamas have foreign passports from 25 countries, including 54 Thai nationals, according to the Israeli government.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council is due to be briefed on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The 15-member body has unsuccessfully voted four times in the past two weeks on draft resolutions that aimed to take action on the war, but the 193-member UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Friday to call for an immediate humanitarian truce.

US President Joe Biden pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a call on Sunday to protect civilians in Gaza and “immediately and significantly increase the flow of humanitarian aid” to the besieged coastal enclave, the White House said.

Biden and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi committed to the significant acceleration of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning Sunday, the White House said separately.

Colonel Elad Goren of COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry agency that co-ordinates with the Palestinians, said Israel will allow a dramatic increase in aid to Gaza in coming days and Palestinian civilians should head to a “humanitarian zone” in the south of the tiny territory.

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas, a task it described as necessitating protracted ground assaults in, around and under Gaza City, where the fighters have an extensive subterranean bunker network.

There are fears too of regional overspill of the Gaza war, such as in Lebanon, where the Israeli army and Hezbollah group have been exchanging fire.

On Monday, Syrian state TV said Israeli air strikes targeted two army posts in Daraa, leading to “some material losses”.

The conflict has spurred large demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians. On Sunday several thousand people rallied in Beirut to show solidarity with Gaza.

Hundreds of anti-Israel protesters stormed Russia’s Dagestan airport in Makhachkala on Sunday after a plane from Israel arrived, forcing security forces to close the airport and divert flights while removing the demonstrators.

The incident prompted Israel to urge Moscow to protect Israelis and Jews in Russia.


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