Palestinian family seen riding on the back of a cart as they move towards safer areas. Alamy Stock Photo
israel-hamas war

Israeli forces move towards crowded southern Gaza after pulling negotiators out of truce talks

Israeli forces claimed they were hitting “terrorist targets” inside the Gaza Strip.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 2nd 2023, 6:52 PM

ISRAEL HAS POUNDED targets in the crowded southern half of the Gaza Strip and ordered more neighbourhoods designated for attack to evacuate, driving up the death toll the US and others urged it to do more to protect Gaza civilians.

Smoke again clouded the sky over the north of the Palestinian territory, whose Hamas government said 240 people had been killed since a pause in hostilities expired early and combat resumed yesterday.

This comes as Israel announced it was pulling its Mossad negotiators out of Qatar, which is mediating efforts to secure a renewed pause in the Israel-Hamas war, after a deadlock in the talks.

“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,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

At almost exactly the same time Israeli negotiators pulled out of deadlocked truce talks in Qatar, Israeli jets sent a prestige Doha-funded housing development in the Gaza Strip up in smoke.

Hamad City is named for the former emir of the Gulf petro-state, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, who laid the foundation stone on a visit 11 years ago.

Inaugurated in 2016, it was still among the newest projects in the Gaza Strip, the housing complex in the city of Khan Yunis boasting an impressive mosque, shops and gardens.

The first flats – more than 1,000 of them – were provided to Palestinians whose homes were destroyed in the war between Israel and Hamas two years earlier.

Today it happened again, a day after a Qatar-brokered pause in the current war between Israel and Hamas expired.

First their phones pinged around noon with an “immediate” evacuation order SMS sent by the Israeli army, which says the system is aimed at minimising civilian casualties.

Around an hour later, five Israeli air strikes rained down on the neighbourhood in the space of just two minutes.

Bombs slammed into the pale apartment blocks one by one, reducing them largely to rubble and sending a huge pall of black smoke into the sky, as people fled and cries of ‘help!’ and ‘ambulance!’ rang out.

“At least we got through it,” 26-year-old Nader Abu Warda told AFP, amazed he was still alive.

According to the United Nations an estimated 1.7 million people in Gaza – around 80 percent of the population – have been displaced by eight weeks of war.

Several homes were hit across Gaza today, with multiple casualties reported in a strike that flattened a multi-storey building on the outskirts of Gaza City.

Warplanes hit “more than 50 targets in an extensive attack in the Khan Yunis area” of Gaza’s south, the military added.

The population is short of food, water and other essentials, and many homes have been destroyed. UN agencies have declared a humanitarian catastrophe, although some aid trucks did arrive today.

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

But in a social media post the charity said its Egyptian colleagues had managed to send over a number of trucks.

Fadel Naim, chief doctor at the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, told AFP that 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, told AFP, adding that he had counted 10 dead in his family and “13 more still under the rubble”.

Both sides blamed each other for the breakdown of the truce, which had enabled the release of 80 Israeli hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Since the end of the pause, Israel’s air, naval and ground forces have attacked more than 400 targets in Gaza, the army said. The figure is roughly in line with the daily average number of strikes prior to the pause, according to military figures released previously.

International leaders and humanitarian groups condemned the return to fighting.

“I deeply regret that military operations have started again in Gaza,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on X, formerly Twitter.

“Today, in a matter of hours, scores were reportedly killed and injured,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said. “Families were told to evacuate, again. Hopes were dashed.”

French President Emmanuel Macron has also appealed for intensified efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

“This situation requires stepped-up efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire,” to free all hostages held by Hamas, allow more urgently needed aid into Gaza, and to assure Israel of its security, he told a news conference on the sidelines of the UN’s COP28 climate talks in Dubai.

Separately, members of an Israeli armoured brigade “eliminated terrorist squads and directed fire against terrorist targets in the north of the Gaza Strip”, the military said.

During an unprecedented attack on October 7, Hamas fighters broke through Gaza’s militarised border into Israel, killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 Israelis and foreigners hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response and unleashed an air and ground campaign that has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, the Hamas authorities who run Gaza say.

No phones

The Israeli military has divided the Gaza Strip into 2,300 “blocs” and is now sending SMS messages to residents telling them to leave before they launch the strikes which they say will “eliminate Hamas”.

Around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in the militant’s 7 October assault on southern Israel and some 240 were taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

The Hamas-led Gaza Strip government says Israel’s campaign has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians, since it was launched eight weeks ago.

The United Nations humanitarian agency, OCHA, has highlighted that the warning messages do not indicate where the recipients should go.

Ibrahim al-Jamal, a civil servant in his 40s, said he does not have any “internet, any electricity or even a radio to receive information” and that he has “never seen this map” setting out the different blocs.

“Many people in Gaza have never heard of it and it wouldn’t matter anyway as the bombings are taking place everywhere,” he said.

Humanitarian bodies say the most vulnerable in Gaza are the estimated 1.7 million displaced people.

Many of them do not have access to phones and have to rely on warning leaflets dropped by planes, not visible from inside an apartment.

Fighting spreads

Fighting also resumed on Israel’s northern border.

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which like Hamas is backed by Iran, said two of its members were killed Friday in Israeli strikes on Lebanon, as its fighters resumed attacks against Israeli targets following the end of the truce.

Israel’s military said its artillery struck the sources of “launches” from Lebanon.

Syria said Israel carried out air strikes near Damascus on Saturday. A British-based war monitor said the strikes on “Hezbollah sites” killed two Syrian pro-Hezbollah fighters.

Hamas in October last year said it had restored relations with Syria’s government. Israeli attacks on targets in Syria have intensified since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Despite the resumption of deadly fighting, efforts to reach another truce went on.

“We’re going to continue to work with Israel and Egypt and Qatar on efforts to reimplement the pause,” United States Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday.

© AFP 2023