DEMONSTRATORS carry Palestinian flag during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday.—AFP
DEMONSTRATORS carry Palestinian flag during an anti-Israel and anti-US rally, in Sanaa, Yemen, on Monday.—AFP

• Palestinian authorities claim 120 killed in overnight strikes
• Siege leaves the wounded out of rescuers’ reach
• EU presses Israel over two-state solution

GAZA CITY: Israeli forces, advancing deep into southern Gaza’s Khan Yunis city on Monday in the heaviest assault of the new year so far, stormed one hospital and placed another under siege, cutting the wounded off from trauma care.

Troops advanced for the first time into Khan Yunis’s western part, near the Mediterranean coast. There, they stormed the Al Khair hospital and arrested medical staff, a spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said tanks had also surrounded another Khan Yunis hospital, Al Amal, headquarters of the rescue agency, which had lost contact with its staff there.

Ashraf Al Qidra, the spokesperson, said 120 people were killed in Khan Yunis on Sunday night, while the sieges of medical facilities meant many of the dead and wounded were beyond the reach of rescuers.

“The Israeli occupation is preventing ambulances from moving to recover bodies of martyrs and the wounded from western Khan Yunis,” he said.

Residents said bombardment from air, land and sea was the most intense in the southern sector of Gaza Strip since October, as Israeli tanks surged across Khan Yunis towards the Mediterranean coast.

Video filmed from afar showed scattered civilians wandering a ghost city, crowded with tents, as gunfire rattled and columns of smoke rose into the sky.

Israel launched a military operation’ last week to capture Khan Yunis, which it now says is the principal headquarters’ of the Hamas fighters who carried out the Oct 7 raids.

The newest phase of the Israeli action has brought bloodshed deep into the last corners of the enclave’s south, now packed with those who fled bombardment in the north. A total of 25,295 Gazans have been killed since Oct 7, Gaza’s health authorities said on Monday.

The majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now penned into Rafah, just south of Khan Yunis, and Deir Al Balah, just north of it. .

Buried in hospital grounds

At Nasser Hospital, the only major hospital still accessible in Khan Yunis and the largest still functioning in Gaza, video showed the trauma ward overwhelmed with wounded being treated on a floor splashed with blood. Relatives wailed, surrounding small wounded children being treated several to a bed.

A young man, Rabie Salem, sat on the floor cradling a small wounded girl in his arms. They had finally reached the hospital in the morning after waiting for an ambulance through the night, while his mother lay dying. She had told him not to worry about her and help the rest of the family, he said, weeping: “Now she is gone.”

Ahmed Abu Mustafa, an emergency doctor, said he hadn’t slept for 30 hours and was treating 10 patients in an intensive care unit with four beds.

Outside, men were digging graves inside the hospital grounds because it was no longer safe to venture out to the cemetery. A man placed the tiny body of a toddler wrapped inside a white shroud into a shallow hole in the sand. Authorities said 40 people were buried there.

“It’s very difficult to leave the complex and go to any cemetery and bury them because we’re under siege and anyone who leaves the complex is targeted,” said Abdelkarim Ahmad, participating in the burials.

‘Last assault’

The storming of western parts of Khan Yunis is the culmination of a battle that Israeli officials have depicted as their last “large-scale ground assault” before they shift to more “targeted operations to eradicate Hamas”.

Israel says it will not stop fighting until it annihilates Hamas. But Palestinians and some Western military experts say that objective may be unachievable given the group’s diffuse structure and deep roots in Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

Two-state solution

Pressure built on Israel for an eventual two-state solution involving statehood long sought by Palestinians.

European Union foreign ministers held meetings in Brussels on Monday with top diplomats from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and key Arab states.

The 27 EU ministers first met Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz before sitting down separately with the Palestinian Authority’s top diplomat, Riyad Al Maliki.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told Israel “peace and stability cannot be built only by military means”.

“Which are the other solutions they have in mind? To make all the Palestinians leave? To kill them off?” Borrell said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has drawn condemnation from the United Nations and defied the United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, by rejecting calls for a Palestinian state.

Maliki demanded the EU call for an immediate ceasefire and urged the bloc to consider sanctions against Netanyahu for “destroying the chances for a two-state solution”.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said “the whole world” sees a two-state solution as “the only way out of this misery”.

Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, told reporters he was in Brussels to discuss the need “to bring back our hostages and restore security for the citizens of Israel”.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2024

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