Israel strikes southern Gaza as Blinken heads to Egypt for talks

AFP , Thursday 11 Jan 2024

Israel bombarded the southern Gaza Strip overnight, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to travel to Egypt on Thursday for more talks aimed at containing Israel's war on Gaza.

Gaza
Palestinian mourners react over the bodies of members of the al-Orjani family after they were killed during Israeli bombardment, on January 11, 2024, at al Najar hospital in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.AFP

 

The diplomat was set to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, a day after talks with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas.

The Middle East trip, his fourth aimed at preventing the conflict's spread, coincided with a UN Security Council resolution on Wednesday demanding an "immediate" end to attacks in the Red Sea by Yemen's Houthi rebels carried out in solidarity with Gaza.

It also comes as Israel was set to face accusations brought by South Africa at the UN's top court on Thursday that it has committed "genocidal" acts in Gaza.

Hamas's press office said early Thursday that 62 people had been killed in strikes overnight, including around Gaza's main southern city of Khan Yunis.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said in his evening briefing the night before that forces were continuing "to act decisively above and below ground" in the area.

Earlier in the day, the army said that troops east of the city had found "tunnel shafts, tunnel routes, and numerous weapons and materials", and killed dozens of foghters.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said an Israeli strike on an ambulance in central Gaza killed four medics and two other passengers on Wednesday.

In Deir al-Balah, also in central Gaza, people wounded in a strike at a nearby school were brought to the Al-Aqsa hospital.

"There are injured people at the school since last night, no cars or ambulances are reaching it -- nothing," Ramadan Darwit told AFP at the hospital.

'Indescribable' crisis 

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths posted on the social media platform X that Gaza's health sector "is being slowly choked off".

The World Health Organization called the humanitarian situation "indescribable".

In the southern border town of Rafah, which has been overrun with displaced people fleeing fighting further north, former Gaza health ministry staffer Zaki Shaheen converted his shop into a makeshift clinic.

Shaheen said he had worked in emergency care "my whole life".

"So we decided to open a medical department, and we got help from the health ministry," he told AFP, noting the goal was to take pressure off of already-overburdened hospitals.

"We receive no less than 30 or 40 cases per day, morning to night. I'll be sleeping, then someone comes in with an injury or a burn, so we treat them."

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced inside the territory, which had already endured years of blockade and poverty.

Blinken sketched out a possible post-war future for Gaza after meeting Abbas and Bahrain's King Hamad on Wednesday.

Blinken told Abbas that Washington supported "tangible steps" towards the creation of a Palestinian state -- a long-term goal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's hard-right government has opposed.

In Bahrain, Blinken said Abbas was "committed" to reforming the Palestinian Authority "so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza, so that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited under a Palestinian leadership".

 Huthis warned 

Fears, meanwhile, have soared of a widening conflict between Israel and Iran-backed armed groups, especially Lebanon's Hezbollah, but also others in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Houthi rebels in Yemen who claim to be acting in support of Gaza have carried out numerous attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, a vital artery for international trade.

The United States has set up a multinational naval task force to protect shipping from the attacks, which Blinken on Wednesday said were "aided and abetted" by Iran and would bring "consequences".

The same day, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding "that the Houthi immediately cease all such attacks, which impede global commerce and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security".

Just a day before, the rebels had "launched a complex" attack in the area, US Central Command said, adding that US and British forces had shot down 18 drones and three missiles, with no casualties or damage reported.

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