Israel adamant on ground assault despite pressure

Published October 15, 2023
A Palestinian man carries an injured girl following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis, on Saturday.—AFP
A Palestinian man carries an injured girl following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis, on Saturday.—AFP

• Saudi Arabia suspends normalisation process with Tel Aviv, urges immediate ceasefire; OIC to meet on 18th
• US, China want each other to play role in peace talks
• Children among dead in Israeli strike on a fleeing convoy; settlements on Golan Heights pounded

GAZA STRIP: Israel shelled Syria on Saturday in settlements on the annexed Golan Heights, the army said, amid warning to Palestinians to get out of the northern Gaza Strip before an expected large-scale ground offensive against the besieged enclave.

The warning came amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at achieving a ceasefire with United States and China urging each other to initiate peace efforts.

While President Joe Biden held separate phone calls with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netan­yahu and Palestinian Auth­ority President Mah­moud Abbas, Saudi Arabia put the “possible normalisation” talks with Israel on hold and called for an immediate truce.

Troops, tanks and heavy weaponry were massed at the border in anticipation of strikes against Gaza.

On the Gazan side, health officials said more than 2,200 people had been killed. Concerns grew about the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave as food, fuel supplies and medicines ran low.

The Israeli military has been pounding the besieged territory with thousands of missiles since the conflict began.

One air strike killed Ali Qadi with the Israeli army alleging he was an important figure involved in the unprecedented attack.

“Localised” raids have also taken place, as Israeli troops encircle the Gaza Strip, said army spokesman Jonathan Conricus. “We will likely evolve into additional significant combat operations,” he added.

Some 1.1 million people — nearly half the population of 2.4m — live in the north of Gaza, and aid agencies have said forcing them to move is an impossibility as the Israeli attacks show no sight of slowing down.

Israeli actions ‘barbaric’

Hamas chief Ismail Han­iyeh said Israel was committing “war crimes” in Gaza and blocking the supply of humanitarian aid.

In a letter to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, posted on the group’s website, he called Israel’s cutting off of electricity, water and fuel supplies “barbaric”.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas.

Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht urged civilians in northern Gaza not to delay in getting out, with a “window” for safe passage between 10am and 4pm.

However, a BBC report said that Israeli army attacked even a fleeing convoy on Gaza ‘safe route, and there were children among the dead.

Hecht did not say how many days the so-called window would remain open.

AFP reporters on the outskirts of the Israeli city of Sderot saw troops hit northern Gaza with fresh air strikes on Saturday, sending huge plumes of dense black smoke into the sky.

Gazans, who cannot leave the enclave as it is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases, to trudge through the rubble-strewn streets.

A stream of cars, trucks, three-wheeled vehicles and donkey-drawn carts joined the frantic mass movement south, all loaded with families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding and bags strapped onto the roofs of packed vehicles. Roads in the 40km-long territory were jammed. But putting distance between people and the bombings had not dispelled fear.

“We wake up to the killing and death under the bombs,” said Mohamed Abu Ali, who lives in Gaza. “We don’t know where to go, where is safe. We have no food, water or electricity,” he added.

Aid agencies, including the UN and Red Cross, plus several foreign diplomats have voiced concern about the feasibility of the evacuation plan.

According to the UN, more than 1,300 buildings in Gaza have been destroyed, while local hospitals have become overwhelmed with growing numbers of dead and injured. “What does the world want from us?” asked one Palestinian resident, Mohamed Khaled, 43.

“I am a refugee in Gaza and they want to displace me yet again?”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said Israel was carrying out “genocide” in Gaza, while clashes in the occupied West Bank have killed 53 Palestinians in the past week.

“I think all just people around the world, not just in Britain, must stand up and call for this madness (to end),” Ismail Patel, chairman of the Friends of Al-Aqsa campaign, told AFP.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who paid a visit to Saudi Arabia and UAE, said he had a “productive” one-hour phone call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. He is seeking Beijing’s help in restoring calm, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

Wang for his part said that the US should “play a constructive and responsible role, pushing the issue back on track for a political settlement as soon as possible,” according to a readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry. He said China wanted urgent peace talks to resolve the situation.

Saudi Arabia said Riyadh was calling for “an immediate ceasefire in Gaza” and the surrounding area, and for the siege to be lifted, to allow aid to get in, a source familiar with the discussion said.

War crimes

At the United Nations, Pakistan called “unacceptable” the collective punishment of Gaza’s entire Palestinian population by Israeli occupation forces, saying it amounts to “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

“Major crimes against humanity are being committed even as we speak, in Palestine, in Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and in other situations of oppression, occupation and violence,” Pakistani delegate Rabia Ijaz told the General Assembly’s Sixth (legal) Committee.

Ms Ijaz, a second secretary at the Pakistan Mission to the UN, said Islamabad is deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza due to the indiscriminate aerial bombardment, including of civilian and even protected UN targets.

Meanwhile, caretaker Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani and UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed discussed the escalating situation in Gaza and stressed urgent need for cessation of hostilities and protection of civilians.

During a telephonic conversation, they also stressed upon the coordinated response, he said in a posting on X.

OIC’s extraordinary meeting

At the invitation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be held on Oct 18 at the general secretariat headquarters in Jeddah Governorate to address the escalating military situation in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia chairs the current session of the Islamic Summit, a press statement of the OIC Secretariat said.

Besides, the general secretariat of OIC expressed its absolute rejection and condemnation of Israel, the calls for forced displacement of Palestinians, and attempts to transfer the humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the Israeli occupation to neighboring countries.

Published in Dawn, October 15th, 2023

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