Israeli ground war in north Gaza puts Jabalia in crosshairs

AP , Ahram Online , Tuesday 21 Nov 2023

The front line of the Israeli war on Gaza, now in its seventh week, shifted on Tuesday to the Jabalia refugee camp, a dense warren of concrete buildings near Gaza City in the north of the strip that has been without electricity, water, or access to humanitarian aid for weeks.

Israeli occupation army s soldiers
Israeli soldiers during a military operation in the Zeitoun district of the southern part of the Gaza Strip amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. AFP


The Israeli army said they are “preparing the battlefield” in Jabalia. It said they struck three tunnels where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, adding that “dozens” of militants have been killed in recent days.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, and it was not possible to independently confirm details of the Israeli strikes.

A strike on a nearby hospital killed 12 people on Monday, as Israeli troops and tanks battled Palestinian fighters outside its gates.

Footage released by the military shows Israeli soldiers patrolling in Jabalia on foot as gunfire echoes around them.

Military footage from other areas in the north in recent days has shown widespread destruction, with nearly every building appearing to be damaged or destroyed.

Prior to the war, Jabalia housed refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants.

The war that began on 7 October has exacted a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians, particularly those who remain in the north after Israel repeatedly called on people to flee south. Israeli forces cut off the north in their ground invasion late last month, though tens of thousands have since fled south through corridors announced by the military.

It is unclear how many people remain in the north, but the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) estimates that some 160,000 people are still in its shelters there, even though it is no longer able to provide services. Some 1.7 million Palestinians, about three-fourths of Gaza's population, have fled their homes.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced people have packed into UN-run schools and other facilities across southern Gaza. As the shelters have overflowed, people have been forced to sleep on the streets outside, with little shelter from winter rains that have hit the region in recent days.

Across Gaza, there are shortages of food, water, and fuel for generators to power basic infrastructure. There has been a territory-wide blackout since Israel cut off fuel imports at the start of the war.

Israel continues to strike what it says are militant targets across Gaza, including in the southern evacuation zone, mostly killing women and children, and officials have said it may soon expand its operations in the south.

Fighting around hospitals

Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the north had sheltered in hospitals, but those have steadily been emptied out as they have become targets of Israeli strikes, and most are no longer operational.

Marwan Abdallah, a medical worker at the Indonesian Hospital near Jabalia, said heavy fighting outside its gates on Tuesday prevented ambulances from bringing wounded people in for treatment. “The situation is worsening hour by hour," he said.

Palestinian officials said an Israeli shell struck the hospital early Monday, killing 12 people. Israel denied shelling the hospital but said its troops returned fire on militants who targeted them from inside the 3.5-acre (1.4-hectare) compound.

Some 200 wounded patients and their companions were evacuated from the hospital to southern Gaza on Monday, but up to 500 wounded people and some 2,000 displaced Palestinians remain stranded there, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

A similar standoff played out in recent days at Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza's largest, where over 250 patients and medical workers are stranded after the evacuation of 31 premature babies.

Michael Ryan, a senior World Health Organization official, said Monday that care for complex medical cases – including most cancer and kidney dialysis patients – is no longer available in Gaza and that remaining hospitals would likely be overwhelmed by some 5,500 births expected in the next month.

“The hospital situation – the primary health care system situation – in Gaza is catastrophic and it is the worst you can imagine (in the) north," he said.

Rising toll

More than 13,300 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 5,500 children and 3,500 women, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank. Officials there say another 4,000 are missing. 

The Palestinian Health Ministry bases its count on information gathered by its counterpart in Gaza, which has been unable to fully update casualty figures for more than 10 days because of the breakdown in services and communications in the north.

The Israeli army says 68 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza ground operations.

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