Bethlehem cancels Christmas celebrations to protest Israeli aggression on Palestinians - as it happened

Ahram Online , Saturday 23 Dec 2023

The Israeli army continues its 78-day assault on Gaza, killing dozens in shelling across Gaza. Israeli forces conducted raids in refugee camps in east Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Jenin. On the other side, Qassam Brigades announced its fighters destroyed five more Israeli tanks in fierce battles in northern Gaza.

Lights adorn the Church of the Nativity in the city of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on December 23, 2023. AFP


23:00 The Palestinian Red Crescent announced that it received 70 aid trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent earlier through the Rafah border crossing on Saturday.

In statements to Egyptian Youm 7 News website on Saturday, Khaled Zaki, the head of the Egyptian Red Crescent Chapter in North Sinai, stated that more than 4,300 trucks reached Gaza, carrying food, water, medical supplies, and 2,600 tons of fuel.

22:30 For the 11th straight weekend, thousands took to the street across Europe to demand an immediate ceasefire in the Israeli war on Gaza.

Defying tight security measures against pro-Palestine demonstartions, protesters took to the streets of various major European cities, including Berlin, Germany; Milan, Italy; Utrecht, Holland; Paris, France; and Manchester in the UK.

A participant chants slogans for the freedom of Gaza during a demonstration under the slogan Germany-wide solidarity with Palestine in Berlin, Germany, Saturday Dec. 23, 2023. AP

22:00 Palestinians in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, have decided not to celebrate Christmas this year!

The decision comes as a form of protest against the Israeli war on Gaza and the continued Israeli crackdown on villages and towns across the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Thousands of Christians from around the world descend on the Church of the Nativity, which was built in 333 AD on the spot where Jesus Christ was born, to celebrate the event.

This year, the streets of Bethlehem, home to 30,000 Palestinians, were devoid of all colourful signs of celebration.

The Israeli army has carried out several deadly raids on the city in 2023.

No Christmas in Bethlehem this year crying

21:00 Informed Egyptian sources denied that the Israeli army is operating in the Philadelphi corridor on the Gaza-Egypt borders as reported by Israeli media on Saturday, Al-Qahera News channel reported.

The Palestinian Crossings and Borders Authority also denied the report.

“The Egyptian side denied to us any information it has about the enemy's intention to move militarily in the Palestinian-Egyptian border axis,” the Palestinian authority said in a statement to the media issued on Saturday afternoon.

The statement also denied reports that the Israeli army was operating near the Karm Abu Salem crossing between Egypt-Gaza-Israel at the southernmost point of the Gaza Strip.

“Some media outlets are playing suspicious roles intentionally or unintentionally in the transfer of news and information, and we call on them to adhere to the national line and the supreme interest of our people,” the Palestinian crossings authority said.

20:00 As millions around the world express their support for the Palestinian cause, @Horiuchi_Takao, a Japanese man from Osaka, has defied the bitter cold winter as he completed a 50-day vigil outside of a train station in the city demanding an end to the Israeli genocidal campaign against the Palestinian people.

Takao has been joined daily by a chorus of supporters :)

19:00 The Israeli army on Saturday said five of its soldiers had been killed and 24 were injured in fierce battles in the Gaza Strip in the last 24 hours.

Four soldiers were killed on Friday in southern Gaza and a fifth on Saturday in northern Gaza, said the army.

This brings the death toll of Israeli soldiers in Gaza to 144 since the start of Israel's ground invasion on 27 October.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said Saturday that more than 200 people had been killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours across the territory.

This brings the Palestinian death toll since the start of Israel's war on the Gaza Strip to 20,258, most of them women and children.

18:00 Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday slammed the "inefficacy" of international bodies to halt Israel's deadly war on the Gaza Strip, according to AFP.

Raisi's remarks during a conference in Tehran in support of the Palestinians came a day after the United Nations Security Council approved a much-delayed resolution demanding aid be allowed into Gaza.

The resolution also urged the creation of "conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities", without calling for an immediate end to Israel's relentless bombardment.

Iran has called the vote "positive but insufficient".

"The inability and inefficacy of international organisations has become clear to everyone in the world," Raisi told the Tehran conference.

"The Security Council... officially announced its desperation, and said that there is nothing we can do," he said.

"International organisations have also announced that there is nothing we can do."

On Saturday, Raisi discussed in a phone call with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi the latest development in the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip.

Also on Saturday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Israel's war on the strip has "exposed" the "false human rights claims" by the United States and other Western allies of Israel.

Accordingly, he reiterated calls on Muslim countries "to cut ties" with Israel in light of the atrocious war crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.

17:00 In fierce battles between the Palestinian factions and the Israeli army in northern Gaza, Qassam Brigades announced the destruction of 5 Israeli tanks and the killing and wounding of all their personnel by using two Israeli missiles that the army fired towards homes in the Gaza Strip but did not explode, according to Al Jazeera.

Qassam Brigades repurposed them and planted them on the path of the advance of Israeli vehicles in Jabalia Al-Balad and detonated them immediately upon their arrival at the place.

Meanwhile, in fierce battles in southern Gaza, Qassam announced that its fighters "lured 5 Zionist soldiers from the Yahalom unit to the tunnel east of Khan Younis and then blew it up," according to Al Jazeera.

"They entered and we eliminated them from point zero," Qassam noted.

Also on Saturday, Qassam announced that it had determined that several Israeli captives might have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

It released a video depicting several Israeli captives with the sound of airstrikes in the background. 

Qassam said it made its determination after the leadership lost all communications with the group responsible for that particular group of captives.

Click here for an in-depth analysis of the Palestinian resistance.

16:00 On Saturday, 21 wounded Palestinians and their companions entered Egypt through the Rafah Border Crossing for medical treatment in Egyptian hospitals. according to a medical source reported by the Egyptian state news agency MENA.

Additionally, the border crossing was opened early on Saturday to facilitate the evacuating of 132 individuals from Norway, Ukraine, Ireland, the Netherlands, the US, and Morocco.

15:50 An Israeli soldier was killed in the north of the country after rockets were fired from Lebanon; two other soldiers were killed in Gaza, according to the Israel Haaretz newspaper.

15:30 "Israeli tanks have begun a ground operation from Karm Abu Salem crossing towards the Philadelphi Corridor on the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt," Al Jazeera reported citing Israeli media.

In October, Egypt warned Israel of any military operations in the 14-kilometer buffer zone with Gaza, known as the Philadelphi Corridor and guaranteed by the Egypt–Israel peace treaty of 1979.

14:40 The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said that the Israeli army has continued to detain eight members of the Jabalia ambulance centre in northern Gaza.

"It has been over a month since the arrest of our colleague, Awni Khattab, Head of the PRCS ambulance centre in KhanYounis," they added.

The PRCS called upon the international community "to apply pressure on the occupation authorities to promptly release our teams and ensure their safety and protection."

13:28 Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi discussed the developments in the Gaza Strip and pending issues between Egypt and Iran during a phone conversation with his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi.

13:00 UNRWA warns of "unprecedented levels of hunger" in Gaza, saying that "pockets of hunger across the Strip are widening."

"We are unable to distribute as much food as we should - simply because of the constant airstrikes and the limited supplies we're permitted to bring in," said Juliette Touma, UNRWA Director of Communications.

Touma emphasized the dire circumstances, mentioning that, as an example, a family of four survives on just a single can of beans for three days.

"It is a brutal war and a very tight siege," she noted, stressing that people receive only 10 percent of what they need.

Palestinians wait to collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah. AFP.

12:36 Israel's ongoing war on Gaza, experts say, now sits among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history, outpacing Allied bombings of Germany during World War II, and turning "earth to liquid." In just over two months, the war has wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016 and Ukraine’s Mariupol.

With more than 20,000 Palestinians killed, a significant number being women and children, this war has claimed more lives than the US-led coalition's three-year war against the Islamic State group. 

The vast majority of the bombs used in Gaza are believed to be U.S.-made, with the Israeli occupation army employing 2,000-pound “bunker-busters” that have inflicted immense devastation in densely populated areas.

Fragments of American-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bombs and Smaller Diameter Bombs have been found in Gaza, according to Brian Castner, a weapons investigator with Amnesty International.

The JDAM bombs include precision-guided 1,000- and 2,000-pound (450-kilogram and 900-kilogram) “bunker-busters.”

“It turns earth to liquid,” said Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon defense official and a war crimes investigator for the U.N. “It pancakes entire buildings.”

Data from the United Nations shows damage and destruction around al-Rantisi Hospital in northern Gaza. (MAXAR/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post analyzed satellite imagery, airstrike data and UN damage assessments, and interviewed more than 20 aid workers, health-care providers, and experts in munitions and aerial warfare. The evidence shows that the Israeli army has conducted repeated and widespread airstrikes in proximity to hospitals, which are supposed to receive special protection under the laws of war.

Satellite imagery reviewed by Post reporters revealed dozens of apparent craters near 17 of the 28 hospitals in northern Gaza, where the bombing and fighting were most intense during the first two months of the war, including 10 craters that suggested the use of bombs weighing 2,000 pounds, the largest in regular use.

“There’s no safe space. Period,” said Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who visited Gaza on 4 December. “I haven’t passed one street where I didn’t see the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.”

12:23 Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) criticized the UN Resolution for failing to call for an "immediate and sustained ceasefire."

MSF lamented that the resolution's diluted nature won't facilitate the essential and swift flow of humanitarian aid desperately required in Gaza, "as bombs continue to rain down on Palestinian civilians, force mass displacement, and deny access to vital medical care and humanitarian assistance." 

In a post on X, the group highlighted concerns regarding Israel's conduct in the conflict, adding that "the way Israel is prosecuting this war, with US support, is causing massive death and suffering among Palestinian civilians and is inconsistent with international norms and laws. Even war has rules."

"We need a ceasefire now to deliver aid. Stop attacks on hospitals, healthcare workers, and ambulances."

11:53 An Israeli airstrike on a building in Gaza City killed 76 members of an extended family, rescue officials said Saturday.

Friday's strike is among the deadliest of the Israeli war, now in its 12th week, said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Civil Defense Department.

He provided a partial list of the names of those killed — 16 heads of households from the Al-Mughrabi family — and said the dead included women and children.

Among the dead were Issam Al-Mughrabi, a veteran employee of the UN Development Program, his wife, and their five children.

“The loss of Issam and his family has deeply affected us all. The UN and civilians in Gaza are not a target,” said Achim Steiner, the head of the agency. “This war must end.”

Palestinians mourn their relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip outside a morgue, in Khan Younis, AP