Israeli forces push into southern Gaza

AFP , Sunday 10 Dec 2023

Hamas said Sunday that Israel had launched a series of "very violent raids" targeting the southern city of Khan Yunis and the road from there to Rafah, near the border with Egypt.

A ball of fire rises above a building during an Israeli strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip .AFP


A source close to Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad told AFP both groups were involved in "fierce clashes" with Israeli forces on Sunday near Khan Yunis. An AFP journalist reported strikes in the area.

At least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory, according to the latest figures from Gaza's health ministry.

Israel on Saturday said 137 captives remained in the Palestinian territory.

With few options for safety, people across the Gaza Strip sought refuge in hospitals on Saturday.

In the northern Gaza City, an AFP journalist said thousands were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital, which is no longer functioning and partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.

Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.

Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the city's Shejaiya district, said he had fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.

"It was madness. A shell hit the house and wounded my 20-year-old son," he told AFP.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he said.

"We don't know if they will storm the hospital again."

In central Gaza, health authorities said Saturday that 71 dead bodies had arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah over 24 hours.

And in the south of the territory, 62 dead bodies had arrived at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, the health authorities said.

An AFP correspondent at the hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting for care on the floor, while firefighters outside tried to douse a burning building hit by an Israeli strike.

The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic", said Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.

 'Death sentence for children' 

An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced.

Blocked from leaving the narrow territory, they have turned Rafah, near the crossing with Egypt, into a vast camp.

The United Nations children's agency said Saturday that nearly one million children had been forcibly displaced by the conflict.

With fighting intensifying in southern Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek shelter, children are running out of safe places to go.

"They are now being pushed further and further south into tiny, overcrowded areas without water, food, or protection, putting them at increased risk of respiratory infections and waterborne disease," said Adele Khodr of UNICEF.

"The restrictions and challenges being placed on the delivery of lifesaving aid going into and across the Gaza Strip are another death sentence for children."

As alarm grew over Gaza's worsening humanitarian situation, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi urged his forces to "press harder" in their campaign.

Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 Hamas fighters had been killed, without elaborating on the source of the figure.

The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue captives on Thursday night.

Hamas said a captive, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, later confirmed by his kibbutz settlement in Beeri.

 UN force hit 

A rare UN Security Council vote on a ceasefire in the conflict was vetoed on Friday by the United States, whose envoy Robert Wood claimed the proposal was "divorced from reality" and would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.

Iran, which backs Hamas, warned of an "uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region" following the veto.

In Yemen, Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened on Saturday to attack any vessels heading to Israeli ports unless food and medicine were allowed into Gaza.

The French military said Sunday that one of its frigates had shot down two drones in the Red Sea that were heading towards the vessel from the coast of Yemen.

Regular exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah movement have further fuelled fears of a wider regional conflict.

Israel's army said it retaliated on Saturday after unspecified "launches" from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.

A United Nations peacekeeping position in southern Lebanon was hit on Saturday without causing casualties, the UN force said, adding it was seeking to verify the source of the fire.

Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the health ministry said three people were killed on Saturday.

The military earlier said it had arrested 2,200 people in the West Bank since the war began.

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