As 2023 drew to a close, Israeli war intensifies in Gaza; humanitarian crisis worsens - as it happened

Ahram Online , Sunday 31 Dec 2023

On the 86th day of the Israeli war, the Palestinian health ministry reported numerous deaths in overnight strikes on central Gaza's Zawayda and the nearby Al-Moghazi refugee camp, while the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of the growing threat of infectious diseases and the UN says Gaza is "just weeks away" from famine.

Palestinians inspect the damage of a destroyed house following Israeli airstrikes on Khan Younis, Southern Gaza Strip, Sunday, Dec. 31, 2023. Photo: AFP

22:15 Tony Blair, the former British prime minister met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to discuss Blair's role in finding countries where Palestinian from Gaza could be relocated, according to Israel's Channel 12 news.

Blair is reportedly being tapped as the head of an Israeli initiative seeking to encourage other countries to take in Palestinians fleeing Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip. 

Most of the Palestinian population in Gaza - 1.8 million people - have been forcibly displaced since Israel began the war three months ago. 

21:10 Hamas condemned the distortion of truth by various Western media outlets, accusing them of amplifying Israeli propaganda and disseminating false allegations against the Palestinians and their resistance.

The peak of bias in a report published by The New York Times, titled "Screams Without Words’: How Hamas Weaponized Sexual Violence on Oct. 7," where it made claims of rape and sexual violence purportedly committed by Palestinian resistance fighters during the Al-Aqsa Flood operation on 7 Octobe, Basem Naim, a member of Hamas's political bureau in Gaza said in a statement.

"We categorically deny such allegations," Naim asserted, emphasizing that these accusations are part of an orchestrated effort by Israel to vilify and dehumanize the Palestinian people and justify Israel's war crimes and acts of genocide.

Naim criticized the New York Times report for relying solely on Israeli sources aligned with the state's narrative, failing to provide conclusive evidence to support the claims. He pointed out that the testimonies used lacked substantial proof and contradicted the accounts of Israeli women who spoke positively about their treatment by Palestinian fighters on social media and to Israeli media outlets.

"The report also narrated claims from women who said they heard other women repeating these allegations. All what was mentioned of testimonies don't indicate conclusive evidence of one Palestinian fighter committing such shameful acts."

Furthermore, he highlighted the positive testimonials of Israeli female captives released from Gaza, who reported receiving fair treatment and humane gestures from their captors, contrary to the allegations of mistreatment and violence.

"Our fighters stand for freedom and dignity. Such reprehensible acts contradict our religion, values, and cultural norms," he declared.

Addressing the timing and circumstances of the alleged incident, the Hamas official underlined that the fighters' primary focus during the Al-Aqsa Flood operation was defending the Palestinian people and breaking the unjust siege imposed on Gaza. He said that the short duration of the operation left no room for the fighters to engage in anything other than their mission.

While expressing readiness for an international inquiry to investigate the allegations, he criticized the New York Times for disregarding reports confirming that the Israeli army committed crimes by bombing Israelis and Palestinian fighters and killing many from both sides during the operation.

20:42 Israeli tanks are shelling Al-Moghazi, Al-Bureij, and Al-Nusairat refugee camps, according to Al Hadath correspondent.

Meanwhile, 17 Palestinians have been killed and dozens injured in an Israeli airstrike targeting a residential area in Khan Younes.

20:35 Aerial footage reveals the full extent of the Israeli destruction of Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.

20:15 Two Israeli security guards were wounded in a stabbing attack near an industrial zone in Jerusalem.

20:00 The Israeli army has started a process to return a substantial number of reservists to their civilian lives, with two additional full brigades set to return home later this week, Jerusalem Post reported.

Earlier in December, Division 252 was released from service for the time being, having completed its mission in northern Gaza.

"But the release of two additional brigades, the 551st and 14th Brigades, is part of a broader rollout that is expected to add additional brigades to return from duty, possibly on a weekly, if not monthly, basis," it said.

19:30 The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said that the Palestinian people will remain steadfast and adhere to their legitimate rights, and will not accept displacement from their land, whatever the cost.

“Today our steadfast Palestinian people are subjected to a comprehensive war of extermination in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem, with the aim of liquidating our national cause and turning it into a humanitarian cause, in a repetition of the 1948 Nakba. But we tell them, the more your aggression and terrorism increase, the stronger, more determined, and more determined our people will become in adhering to their land and their legitimate national rights,” Abou Mazen said, as reported by Wafa news agency.

He said that the plan of the Israeli occupation authorities to eliminate the Palestinian national project, Jerusalem and its sanctities, and divide and steal the land will not pass, as the Gaza Strip is part of the occupied Palestinian territory, of which "we will not give up a single inch."

“We told the whole world that military and security solutions will not bring security and peace to anyone, but rather will push the region and the world to the brink of explosion" the Palestinian leader noted.

18:24 While the world is crowded with New Year's celebrations, the streets of southern Gaza Strip are crowded with displacement.

A least 1.4 million people in Gaza sheltering in UNRWA facilities and many more in the vicinity, sleeping outside, the UN agency says.

While the world is crowded with New Year's celebrations, the streets of southern📍#GazaStrip are crowded with displacement.

— UNRWA (@UNRWA) December 31, 2023

16:47 At least 10 Houthi rebels have been killed Sunday when US forces struck their boats in the Red Sea, two sources at Yemen's Hodeida port said to AFP.

The US military earlier said it had destroyed several small boats operated by the Houthis after they attacked and tried to board a container ship.

One source at the rebel-controlled port said the wounded were rescued following the strike. The other source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were four other survivors.

"Ten Houthis were killed and two were wounded in the US strike on Houthi boats that tried to stop a vessel in the sea off Hodeida," the first source said.

The second source said that "four survivors have arrived in Hodeida with two wounded who were taken to hospital".

The US Navy had responded to a distress call from the Maersk Hangzhou, a Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned and operated container ship that reported coming under attack for a second time in 24 hours while transiting the Red Sea, the US Central Command said in a statement.

Houthis had fired on US helicopters, who "returned fire in self-defence", sinking three of four small boats that had come within 20 meters of the ship, according to the statement.

16:40 The past year brought profound devastation and tragedy to Palestine Refugees. They faced war, extreme violence, displacement, poverty, dire conditions of life in overcrowded camps, the UNRWA said in its review of 2023.

15:00 Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Israeli Army Radio that Palestinians should be encouraged to emigrate from the Gaza Strip

And that he hopes Israel will resettle in Gaza after expelling the Palestinians. 

“We need to encourage immigration from there. If between 100,000 and 200,000 Arabs are living in Gaza, the talk about the next day will be completely different Smotrich tells Army Radio

"They want to leave. They have been living in a ghetto and have been suffering for 75 years," he continued.

The extremist minister also called for the return of Israeli settlers. The minister is a supporter of the “Greater Israel” vision and supports the annexation of the occupied West Bank.

14:30 Over the past 24 hours, 150 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and 286 were injured, Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA) said.

Of these, 130 were killed in devastating bombardment on north and central Gaza this morning.

In Gaza City in the north, strikes on the Al-Zaytoun neighborhood killed 48 while strikes near Al-Aqsa University killed at least 20.

Six people were killed and 40 remain missing under rubble after an airstrike destroyed a home in the Sabra neighbourhood of Gaza City.

In central Gaza, an airstrike in Nuseirat refugee camp killed paramedic Adham Al-Ghoul.

In the south of the strip, one child was killed after Israeli naval vessels fired on Rafah beach.

Israeli shelling also killed four Palestinians in Abasan Al-Kabira, east of Khan Younis.

Simultaneously, rescue teams managed to retrieve the bodies of eight martyrs from various areas in Khan Younis, according to local and medical sources.

In a preliminary toll, the ongoing Israeli offensive on Gaza, which began on 7 October, has resulted in more than 21,822 deaths and approximately 56,450 injuries. Thousands are still missing, with 70 percent of the victims being women and children.

14:00  The Israeli government approved the appointment of a new foreign minister to replace Eli Cohen, a statement said, in a pre-arranged reshuffle.

Israel Katz, the current energy minister, will swap positions with Cohen as part of the ministerial rotation that is subject to parliamentary approval.

"The government has now approved appointing Eli Cohen to the position of minister of energy and infrastructure... and to appoint Israel Katz to the position of minister of foreign affairs," the statement said.

Cohen will continue to serve as a member of the security cabinet, a government decision that is also subject to parliamentary approval, it added.

In an interview on Israeli radio on Sunday, Cohen acknowledged that "the government bears responsibility" for having failed to anticipate the Hamas operation and said an independent commission of inquiry should be established at the end of the war.

Cohen was appointed foreign minister last year in the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government that is widely considered the most right-wing in Israeli history.

Cohen played an instrumental role in the normalization of relations between Israel and some Arab countries.

12:30 The health ministry in Gaza said at least 21,822 people have been killed in the Palestinian territory since the Israeli war on Gaza erupted on 7 October.

The figure includes 150 deaths over the past 24 hours, a ministry statement said. It added that 56,451 people have been wounded in Gaza since the start of the war.

Thousands are still missing, with 70 percent of the victims being children and women.

12:10 Former Minister of Awqaf and Religious Affairs and the preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Yousef Salama, was killed this morning in an Israeli airstrike on his home in the Al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, the Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA) said.

A WAFA correspondent reported that Israeli warplanes targeted the home of Sheikh Salama, leading to his death and the injuring of several members of his family.

12:00 A recent report by The Wall Street Journal has likened the destruction from the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip to the wartime devastation witnessed in Germany during World War II (1939-1945), Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA) said.

The newspaper underscored the dire situation by pointing out that the majority of Gaza's 36 hospitals are now non-operational, with only eight healthcare facilities available to serve the population.

It further observed that Gaza's historical landmarks, including churches from the Byzantine era, mosques, factories, buildings, schools, hotels, shopping centres, as well as crucial utilities like electricity and water sources, have sustained irreversible damage.

Highlighting the human toll, the publication emphasized that nearly 85 percent of Gaza's population (2.3 million people) has been displaced from their homes, and over 21,000 individuals in the region have lost their lives as a result of the Israeli offensive.

Quoting Robert Pape, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and an expert on the history of aerial bombing, The Wall Street Journal reported his statement: "Gaza will enter history alongside cities like Dresden (Germany) and others that were bombed during World War II."

The report referenced a World Bank publication from 12 December, revealing that 77 percent of healthcare facilities, 72 percent of public buildings, including parks, courts, and libraries, 68 percent of communication infrastructure, and almost the entire industrial zone in Gaza were destroyed due to the Israeli aggression.

The Wall Street Journal also drew attention to the fact that while the United States dropped 3,678 bombs on Iraq between 2004 and 2010, Israel released approximately 29,000 bombs on Gaza since October 7.

Caroline Sands, a conflict expert from Kingston University in London, commented on the potential timeframe for Gaza's reconstruction, stating that it could span decades in the best-case scenarios, according to the American newspaper.

11:30 Israeli media quoted Israeli Army Radio as saying that the army does not believe it can eliminate the ability of armed factions in Gaza to launch rockets towards Israel, BBC said. 

According to military radio, the Israeli army succeeded in removing long-range missile launchers, but the danger of short-range missiles still exists.

The military quoted an unnamed army official as saying that “even after two years, it will be possible for the residents of the Gaza Strip to hear the sound of sirens.”

10:50 At least four Palestinians were injured over the last few hours as Israeli drones targeted multiple locations in the Nour Shams and Tulkarm refugee camps in the north of the occupied West Bank, amid an ongoing Israeli military raid into the camps and the nearby city of Tulkarm, according to medical sources.

According to the Palestine News and Information Agency (WAFA), Israeli forces targeted the Tulkarm refugee camp twice with missile strikes from a drone, witnesses said. The first strike hit the Al-Madares neighborhood, resulting in no injuries. Shortly after, another strike targeted the Ghanem neighborhood, causing two injuries.

The injured were promptly transported to the Thabet Thabet Governmental Hospital for medical treatment. Medical sources at the hospital reported that two individuals were admitted with injuries from missile shrapnel. One of the victims is in serious condition with injuries to the abdomen, while the other has minor injuries to the foot, WAFA said.

Earlier in the night, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported that at least two Palestinians sustained injuries from shrapnel from Israeli drone missiles in Nour Shams. It said that due to the blockade imposed by Israeli forces on the camp, its medical crews were unable to transport the injured to hospitals on time.

The Israeli drones further struck locations in Al-Damaj neighbourhood of the camp and near the entrance of Al-Manshiya neighborhood. Simultaneously, widespread arrests were carried out as Israeli forces raided several homes across the camp. Detainees were held in one of the houses, and were subjected to field interrogations with their hands cuffed.

At the same time, Israeli military vehicles deployed at the main entrance of the Tulkarm refugee camp, firing live rounds and flares over the camp. 


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