New ground assault feared as Israel bombards Gaza’s south

Published December 3, 2023
RESIDENTS of the Qatari-funded Hamad Town complex at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip carry some of their belongings as they flee their homes after an Israeli strike, on Saturday.—AFP
RESIDENTS of the Qatari-funded Hamad Town complex at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip carry some of their belongings as they flee their homes after an Israeli strike, on Saturday.—AFP

GAZA: Israeli war planes and artillery bombarded the south of the Gaza Strip on Saturday, hitting mosques, homes and close to a hospital with the International Red Cross terming the renewed fighting intense. Since the truce expired Hamas has fired rockets from Gaza towards Israel.

Residents feared the barrages were a prelude to an Israeli ground operation in the south of the Palestinian territory which would bottle them up in a shrinking area and possibly try to push them into neighbouring Egypt.

The Gaza health ministry said 240 Palestinians had been killed and 650 wounded since the truce ended on Friday morning, adding to the more than 15,000 Palestin­ian dead since the start of the fighting.

Fadel Naim, chief doctor at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, said his morgue had received 30 bodies since the morning, including seven children.

“The planes bombed our houses: three bombs, three houses destroyed,” Nemr Al Bel, 43, said, adding he had counted 10 dead in his family and “13 more still under the rubble”.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas once and for all, saying it is acting against “a foe bent on Israel’s destruction”.

The truce had been brokered with the help of Qatar, backed by Egypt and the United States, but on Saturday Israel said it was withdrawing its negotiators from Doha after reaching a dead end in talks aimed at securing a renewed pause in hostilities.

“Following the impasse in the negotiations and at the direction of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, David Barnea, head of the Mossad, ordered his team in Doha to return to Israel,” the Israeli leader’s office said.

‘Stream of the wounded’

Throughout Saturday morning, a steady stream of wounded people were carried into the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, with some people even receiving treatment on the floor.

Since the end of the pause, Israel’s air, naval and ground forces have attacked more than 400 targets in Gaza, the army said. Warplanes hit “more than 50 targets in an extensive attack in the Khan Yunis area” of Gaza’s south, the Israeli military added.

Since the truce expired Hamas has fired rockets from Gaza towards Israel.

International Red Cross chief Robert Mardini said the renewed fighting was intense. “It’s a new layer of destruction coming on top of massive, unparalleled destruction of critical infrastructure, of civilian houses and neighbourhoods,” Mardini said in Dubai.

With conditions inside the Hamas-ruled enclave reaching “breaking point”, in Mardini’s words, the first aid trucks since the end of the truce entered Gaza through the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing on Saturday.

An adviser to Netanyahu said Israel would facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians.

The two sides blamed each other for the collapse of the seven-day truce, during which Hamas released prisoners in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Israel said it had recalled a Mossad team from Qatar, host of indirect negotiations with Hamas, accusing the Palestinian faction of reneging on a deal which entailed the freeing of all children and women.

South targeted

The southern part of Gaza, including Khan Yunis and Rafah, took a pounding on Saturday. Residents said houses had been hit and three mosques destroyed in Khan Yunis. Columns of smoke rose into the sky.

Displaced Gazans have been sheltering in Khan Yunis and Rafah because of fighting in the north of the densely populated enclave, but residents said they feared Israeli troops were preparing to move onto the south.

“This is the same tactic they used before entering Gaza and the north,” said Yamen.

Yamen fled to Deir Al Balah in central Gaza, from the north after Israel destroyed several districts there.

“Where to after Deir Al Balah, after Khan Yunis? I don’t know where I would take my wife and six children,” he said.

“A night of horror,” said Samira, a mother of four. “It was one of the worst nights we spent in Khan Yunis in the past six weeks since we arrived here,” she said. “We are so afraid they will enter Khan Yunis.”

Among the dead on Saturday was the president of Gaza’s Islamic University, killed along with his family in the bombing of a house in the north, health officials said.

In Deir Al Balah, nine Palestinians, including children, were killed in an air strike, health officials said.

The Israeli military said that in the last 24 hours combined attacks by its ground, air and naval forces had hit “400 targets” and killed an unspecified number of Hamas fighters.

Leaflets, SMS messages

Residents in various areas of Gaza said they were sent SMS messages on Friday warning that “a crushing military attack on your area” was coming, with the aim of eliminating Hamas.

Leaflets dropped by Israel on eastern areas of Khan Yunis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate, not to other areas in Khan Yunis as in the past, but further south to Rafah.

After the truce between Israel and Hamas expired on Friday, Israel had told NGOs not to bring aid convoys across the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, the Palestine Red Crescent Society had said.

In southern Israel, rocket sirens sounded early on Saturday in communities near the border with Gaza, but there were no reports of serious damage or casualties.

Mediator Qatar said Israel’s renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated matters. An Israeli official in Washington said it was a “very high priority” to get as many prisoners released as possible but said: “We can negotiate while we still fight.”

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2023

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