THIS picture released by Israel’s military on Sunday shows Israeli troops patrol inside the Gaza Strip.—AFP
THIS picture released by Israel’s military on Sunday shows Israeli troops patrol inside the Gaza Strip.—AFP

• Israeli minister backtracks after suggestion of dropping nuclear bomb on besieged enclave
• Intense bombing reported as Gaza Strip suffers third internet blackout

GAZA: An Israeli minister suggested dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza, as ground battles raged in northern Gaza on Sunday, where Israeli troops tightened their encirclement of Gaza City resulting in house-to-house combat with Palestinian fighters.

“Soldiers were seen engaged in house-to-house combat as tanks and armoured bulldozers churned through the sand in footage released by the army,” AFP reported.

Meanwhile, phone and internet connections were down on Sunday evening for the third time during the Israeli aggression, according to Paltel, the last remaining major operator. Shortly after the blackout, the Israeli army launched an intense bombardment on Gaza City and other nearby zones in the north of the enclave.

The explosions were so powerful they could be heard in Rafah in the far south of the Palestinian territory, according to an AFP journalist on the scene. Hamas said Israel was carrying out “intense bombings” around several hospitals in northern Gaza.

Images from the Gaza Strip showed civilians heading south away from the fighting, though Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari told foreign reporters Hamas was using roadblocks to try to prevent them from fleeing.

‘We saw dead bodies’

“We saw dead bodies in the streets,” Suhad Zorob said as she fled south. “We saw the tanks… only one street away from us.” The Gaza health ministry said Israeli bombing of Al-Maghazi refugee camp late on Saturday killed 45 people, with an eyewitness reporting children dead and homes smashed.

“An Israeli air strike targeted my neighbours’ house in Al-Maghazi camp, my house next door partially collapsed,” said Mohammed Alaloul, 37, a journalist working for the Turkish Anadolu Agency. He told AFP the bombing killed four of his children as well as four of his brothers and several of his nieces and nephews.

Since Israel sent ground forces into the north of Gaza late last month, “over 2,500 terror targets have been struck” by “ground, air and naval forces”, the army alleged on Sunday.

‘Nuclear option’

In light of his comment regarding the use of nuclear bomb on Gaza, Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu was subsequently suspended from government meetings “until further notice”, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said.

Eliyahu, an ultranationalist politician part of Netnayahu’s ruling coalition, told Israel’s Kol Barama radio he was not entirely satisfied with the scale of Israel’s retaliation in the Palestinian territory after Hamas fighters carried out their deadly attacks inside southern Israel.

When the interviewer asked whether the Israeli minister advocated dropping “some kind of atomic bomb” on the Gaza Strip “to kill everyone”, Eliyahu replied: “That’s one option”.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office quickly responded in a statement, describing Eliyahu’s remarks as “disconnected from reality” and adding that Israel was trying to spare “non-combatants” in Gaza.

In a follow-up question about the estimated 240 hostages held in Gaza, Eliyahu said that “in war we pay a price”. “Why are the lives of the hostages… more important than the lives of the soldiers?” he said.

The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, representing relatives of people snatched to Gaza by Hamas, slammed Eliyahu’s “reckless and cruel” statement.

Following the outcry over his remarks, Eliyahu said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that his statement about the atomic bomb was “metaphorical”. He also said that Israel was “committed to doing everything possible to return the hostages safe and sound”.

Separately, four relatives of a journalist were killed on Sunday in an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon, the official Lebanese news agency said, adding that the journalist was also wounded. The National News Agency (NNA) said the four victims are the sister of radio correspondent Samir Ayoub and her three grandchildren, aged 10, 12 and 14. They were following the journalist’s car in another vehicle when they were killed. Earlier in the day, four rescue workers were injured in an Israeli bombing in southern Lebanon that hit two ambulances, according to the association that owned the vehicles and state media.

Blinken in West Bank

US top diplomat Antony Blinken visited the occupied West Bank on Sunday, part of a whirlwind Middle East tour. Mr Blinken met Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas who denounced a “genocide” in Gaza, where the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said at least 9,770 people had been killed in more than four weeks of conflict. Washington rebuffed calls for a ceasefire and backed Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again vowed that “there won’t be a ceasefire until the hostages are returned”. “Let them remove this from their lexicon. We are saying this to our enemies and to our friends,” the veteran right-wing premier said after meeting troops at an air force base. “We will simply continue until we win. We have no alternative.”

The Israeli aggression has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank, where more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces and in settler attacks, according to the Palestinian health ministry. In the West Bank city of Jenin, bulldozers cleared the smoke-blackened rubble of buildings officials said were burnt in a nighttime Israeli raid.

Following his visit to the West Bank, Blinken made a brief stop in Cyprus, the nearest EU member state to Israel and the Gaza Strip, which has said it is working towards establishing a maritime corridor for aid to Gaza.

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, on a visit to Qatar, called for “an immediate, durable and observed humanitarian truce” that could “lead to a ceasefire”. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry called for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire”.

That call was echoed by thousands of protesters in Washington in solidarity with Palestinians, one of multiple rallies held from Indonesia to Iran, as well as in European cities. Thousands also demonstrated in Israel on Saturday.

Pope Francis on Sunday renewed his call for an end to the Hamas-Israel conflict, urging the release of hostages and humanitarian aid for Gaza, describing the situation as “very serious”.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2023

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