Israel presses on with Gaza offensive approaching 100 days of war

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GAZA

DOHA/ GAZA: Israel kept up bombardments in the Gaza Strip on Saturday as its deadly war on the enclave’s Hamas rulers approached 100 days with no end in sight.

In the southern city of Rafah, an Israeli airstrike on a house sheltering two displaced families killed 10 people, the Gaza health ministry said.

Holding up a photo of a dead girl with a piece of bread in her hand, Bassem Arafeh, a relative, said the families in Rafah had been eating dinner when the house was struck on Friday night.

“This child died while she was hungry, while she was eating a piece of bread with nothing on it, where is the International Criminal Court to see how the children die?” Arafeh said. “Where are the Muslims … and the world leaders?”

Israel says it targets fighters and does all it can to minimize harm to non-combatants as it wages urban warfare against Hamas in the densely populated Palestinian enclave.

An Israeli soldier operates in Gaza, January 8, 2024. PHOTO: REUTERS

An Israeli soldier operates in Gaza, January 8, 2024. PHOTO: REUTERS

But the scale of the killing in Gaza and the dire humanitarian situation has shocked world opinion and fuelled growing calls for a ceasefire.

The Israeli military said on Saturday its forces had killed numerous fighters in the southern area of Khan Younis and in the central Gaza Strip. It said it was looking into the reported strike in Rafah.

Hamas said its fighters fired at an Israeli helicopter in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

In the central Gaza Strip, residents reported intense gunbattles and tank shelling and Israeli air strikes in Al-Bureij, Al-Nusseirat and Al-Maghazi, areas housing refugees and descendants of the 1948 war.

The Israeli military said it targeted fighters and a Hamas command centre in those areas. Israeli forces were also seen on the edge of Deir Al-Balah, a town to the west where Israel had been urging residents to shelter.

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Witnesses said a bus was hit nearby by an Israeli missile. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

More than 20 fatalities were reported in northern Gaza, Beit Lahiya and in the Daraj neighbourhood in Gaza City.

Israel has announced a new phase in combat, withdrawing some forces from northern Gaza, where they deployed three weeks after the fighters rampaged through southern Israel on Oct. 7, sparking the war that will mark 100 days on Sunday.

The Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israeli strikes killed 135 Palestinians and wounded 312 in the past 24 hours. In total, he said 23,843 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since Oct. 7.

Israel says it has killed at least 8,000 fighters so far and that it has no choice but to end Hamas rule in Gaza after the fighters, who are sworn to Israel’s destruction, killed 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took 240 hostages.

Health system ‘collapsed’

At Nasser Hospital, a handful of doctors said they were struggling in a now “collapsed” healthcare system.

Reuters footage showed patients lying on stretchers on the floor inside corridors and doctors using their phone flashlights to examine patients’ eyes.

“Most of the medical supplies in the ICU are missing,” said doctor Mohammad Al-Qidra. “We don’t have empty beds, no treatments. Most of the medicines inside the emergency room are not enough for patients. We are trying to find alternatives.”

Hospital wards are being shared by many of the displaced.

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, January 1, 2024. PHOTO: REUTERS

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their homes due to Israeli strikes, shelter in a tent camp, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, January 1, 2024. PHOTO: REUTERS

“When we ask for medicine, they tell us they don’t have it, and the situation is bad. We are here in cold and windy weather,” said Mahmoud Jaber, who has been displaced from his home in Gaza City.

Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced.

“Sheikh Zayed City was one of the beautiful cities of Gaza before the war, it used to house thousands of people, but it is now destroyed,” said Mahmoud Salama, a freelance Palestinian journalist touring the northern town after Israeli tanks had retreated. “The reality is more difficult than the footage.”

In the occupied West Bank, where violence had already been on the rise before Oct. 7 and has increased since, three Palestinians who were armed with knives, a rifle and an axe tried to break into a Jewish settlement and were killed, the Israeli military said.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the dead were aged 15, 17 and 19. An Israeli soldier was wounded in an exchange of fire with the assailants as they breached the outer fence of the settlement Adora, near the Palestinian city Hebron, Israel said.