Israel squeezes Gaza cities ahead of rare UN vote

AFP , Friday 8 Dec 2023

Israeli forces squeezed Gaza's main cities Friday, as Israel's brutal war on the strip, has killed thousands, left the Palestinian territory in ruins, and triggered an extraordinary UN bid for a ceasefire.

Gaza Strip
Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. AP


Weeks of Israeli airstrikes and a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip have killed 17,177 people in the territory, mostly women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to a wasteland. The UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, facing shortages of food, fuel, water and medicine, along with the threat of disease.

On Friday, the Palestinian health ministry reported another 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City, and dozens more in Jabalia and Khan Yunis.

AFPTV live footage showed plumes of dark smoke over the territory's north.

The death toll also rose in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot dead six Palestinians on Friday, the Palestinian health ministry said.

An attack in Baghdad again raised fears of wider conflict. Salvoes of rockets targeted the US embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone before dawn, US officials said.

Blood stains

This is the first attack against the US mission in Baghdad since Israel's war on Gaza began. Since mid-October 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.

In Gaza, the Israeli military raided multiple 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. On Thursday the wounded arrived at the city's Nasser hospital, where blood stained the walls.

The Israeli invasion has pushed Palestinians further and further south, turning Rafah near the Egyptian border into a vast camp for many of the 1.9 million displaced.

The dire humanitarian crisis in the overcrowded south has sparked fear of epidemic diseases and mass displacement into neighbouring countries.

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.

In a statement Friday, the military said it had killed "numerous" militants in Khan Yunis, part of "extensive battles" in Gaza, where around 450 targets were struck Thursday.

On the other side, Hamas has said it is battling Israeli troops "on all axes of the incursion into the Gaza Strip".

Rare move

During a phone call Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, United States President Joe Biden -- whose country provides billions of dollars in military aid to Israel -- "emphasised 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".

Israeli television stations aired footage Thursday of blindfolded men wearing only underwear, guarded by Israeli soldiers in Gaza. The army said it was investigating.

Izzat al-Rishq, of the Hamas political bureau, accused Israel of "apprehending a group of displaced Palestinian civilians" at a school and stripping them.

On Thursday, 69 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies and 61,000 litres (17,400 gallons) of fuel entered Gaza from Egypt, said the UN humanitarian agency, OCHA.

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 appealed for a "humanitarian ceasefire" to prevent "a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians" and the entire Middle East.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Wednesday said Guterres' tenure was "a danger to world peace" after he invoked Article 99.

Hamas fighters have killed 91 Israeli soldiers since the beginning of the war on Gaza. The military reported four more deaths on Thursday, including the son of war cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot.

Deliberate attack

The war has also led to deadly cross-border exchanges on the Lebanese frontier.

An investigation by AFP into an October 13 strike 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 strike merits a "war crime" investigation.

Israel's army on Friday said the strikes occurred in an "active combat zone" and were under review.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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