Israel squeezes Gaza cities ahead of rare UN vote
By Adel Zaanoun with Stuart White in Jerusalem
PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES – Israeli forces squeezed Gaza’s main cities Friday (8), two months after Hamas’ deadly attack sparked a war that has killed thousands, left the Palestinian territory in ruins and triggered an extraordinary UN bid for a ceasefire.
Weeks of fighting have left 17,177 people dead in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the latest toll from the health ministry in Gaza.
Vowing to destroy the Islamist movement, Israel has relentlessly bombarded Gaza and sent in tanks and ground troops since the war began on October 7 with unprecedented attacks by Hamas on southern Israel. Hamas militants killed about 1,200 people and took hostages, 138 of whom remain captive, Israel says.
Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to a wasteland. The UN says about 80% of the population has been displaced, facing shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine, along with the threat of disease.
On Friday, the health ministry reported another 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City, and dozens more in Jabalia and Khan Yunis.
The military told residents of the Jabalia, Shejaiya and Zeitun districts of Gaza City to move west.
The death toll also rose in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot dead six Palestinians on Friday, the territory’s health ministry said.
Israel’s army confirmed that “during exchanges of fire, a number of terrorists were killed” and two wanted suspects were apprehended in a joint military-intelligence operation.
The armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired more rockets towards Israeli territory.
An attack in Iraq again raised fears of wider conflict, with US officials saying salvoes of rockets targeted the US embassy in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone.
– Blood stains –
This is the first attack against the US mission in Baghdad since the war began, though there have been dozens of rocket or drone strikes by pro-Iran groups against American or coalition forces elsewhere in Iraq as well as in Syria.
Thousands of Jordanians demonstrated near the US embassy in Amman to denounce US support for Israel.
In Gaza, fighting raged around cities in the centre and south, including Deir al-Balah, where ambulances carried numerous wounded.
“May God punish those who can see our suffering and remain calm,” said one Gazan, Rimah Mansi, who told AFP that “all those we love” were gone.
Further south, in Al-Katiba district of Khan Yunis, residents emerged to scenes of desolation after Israeli strikes, an AFP journalist said.
The fighting has pushed Gazans further and further south, turning Rafah near the Egyptian border into a vast camp for many of the 1.9 million displaced.
Israel’s military released footage of naval forces firing from the Mediterranean towards what it called Hamas infrastructure on shore. Other military video showed what it described as strikes on targets in Khan Yunis.
The military said Friday it had killed “numerous” militants in Khan Yunis, part of “extensive battles” in Gaza, where around 450 targets were struck over 24 hours.
In the north, the military said it found Hamas rocket parts, launchers and other weapons as well as a one-kilometre tunnel, at Al-Azhar University in the Gaza City district of Rimal.
Hamas has said it is battling Israeli troops “on all axes of the incursion into the Gaza Strip”.
– Civilization ‘about to break down’ –
In a phone call Thursday (7) with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden – whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel – “emphasized the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas”, the White House said.
Biden also called for “corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities”.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock appealed for “Israel to adapt its military action” and allow more humanitarian aid, especially in Gaza’s north.
On Thursday, 69 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies and fuel entered Gaza from Egypt, the UN said.
This is well below the average 500 truckloads, including fuel, which entered Gaza daily before the war, it said.
Later Friday the UN Security Council meets after Secretary-General Antonio Guterres invoked the UN Charter’s Article 99, which no one in his post has done for decades.
The article allows the secretary-general to bring to the council’s attention “any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security”.
Guterres is seeking a “humanitarian ceasefire” to prevent “a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians” and the entire Middle East.
The World Health Organization reinforced this warning.
“People are starting to cut down telephone poles to have a little bit of firewood to keep warm or maybe cook if they have anything available,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said. “Civilization is about to break down.”
The Gaza war has killed 91 Israeli soldiers so far.
– Hanukkah –
Israelis remain deeply traumatized by the Hamas attack and fearful for the fate of hostages as they mark the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, which began Thursday evening.
Families and supporters of those still held hostage attended a lighting ceremony of a 138-branched menorah, representing each of the captives.
The war has also led to deadly cross-border exchanges on the Lebanese frontier.
An AFP investigation into October 13 strikes in southern Lebanon that killed a Reuters journalist and injured six others, including two from AFP, found it involved a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this region.
The nature of the strikes and lack of military activity in the immediate vicinity of the journalists indicate the attack was deliberate and targeted, the investigation found.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the strikes merit a “war crime” investigation.
Israel’s army said the strikes occurred in an “active combat zone” and were under review.