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Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel Alamy Stock Photo
Gaza

International concern deepens over civilian death toll as Israel expands offensive in Gaza

Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen this morning near the city of Khan Yunis.

LAST UPDATE | Dec 4th 2023, 9:44 PM

ISRAEL’S ARMY HAS sent dozens of tanks into southern Gaza as part of expanded, “aggressive” action against Hamas and its allies in the besieged territory, despite global concern over mounting civilian deaths.

Weeks after Israel deployed ground forces in the north of the Gaza Strip, the army has been air-dropping leaflets in parts of the south, telling Palestinians to flee to other areas.

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in retaliation for the militant group’s unprecedented 7 October attacks that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw around 240 hostages taken, according to Israeli authorities.

Gaza’s health ministry says nearly 15,900 people have been killed in the territory, about 70% of them women and children, during Israel’s relentless air, artillery and naval bombardments alongside its ground campaign.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said the resumption of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza is “unconscionable”. 

“I said before the resumption of the war that it was unconscionable that the war would resume and I believe that,” he said.

“We know from the bombardment of north Gaza that the protection of civilian life was not prioritised, and far too many innocent men, women and children were killed and are now being killed in southern Gaza as a result of this bombardment – and I condemn that, that is wrong.”

Speaking to reporters in Dublin, Martin added: “We’ll continue to work with all of the parties – Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and others – to first of all get hostages out, to get remaining civilians out, but more critically to get the war ended.

“And I think there is a lot of pressure on and that pressure will continue.”

Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen today near the southern city of Khan Yunis, which is packed with internally displaced Palestinians, witnesses told AFP.

At the crowded entrance to the city’s Nasser hospital, ambulances and private cars delivered dazed, bloodied and dust-covered survivors.

Hoping to flee the bombardments, others continued to move further south, their belongings piled onto donkey carts, battered vehicles and even camels, but air strikes have followed them right to the southern border.

khan-yunis-palestine-04th-dec-2023-injuried-people-arriving-at-nasser-hospital-in-khan-yunis-in-the-southern-gaza-strip-on-december-4-2023-photo-by-ramez-habboubabacapress-com-credit-abaca-pre Injuried people arriving at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the Israeli army had told the UN health agency to empty an aid warehouse in southern Gaza before ground operations in the area made it unusable.

“Today, WHO received notification from the Israel Defense Forces that we should remove our supplies from our medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours, as ground operations will put it beyond use,” Tedros wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” he wrote.

Amin Abu Hawli, 59, said Israeli vehicles were 2km inside Gaza in the village of al-Qarara, while Moaz Mohammed, 34, said Israeli tanks were moving down the strip’s main north-south highway, the Salah al-Din road.

The military was trying to cut the road between Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and Khan Yunis, “firing bullets and tank shells at cars and people trying to move through the area,” Mohammed said.

The army said it was taking “aggressive” action against “Hamas and other terrorist organisations” in Khan Yunis, warning that the Salah al-Din road in the north and east of the city “constitutes a battlefield”.

Air strikes

Three more Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of troop deaths there to 75, the army said today.

Full-scale fighting resumed on Friday after the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar with support from the United States and Egypt, during which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

 Nine-year-old Irish-Israeli Emily Hand was released last week after being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for almost 50 days.

More than two dozen Thai and other captives were also released from Gaza.

With at least 137 hostages still held in Gaza, according to the Israeli military, Hamas has ruled out more releases until a permanent ceasefire is agreed.

More air strikes also hit northern Gaza where Hamas’s armed wing reported clashes with Israeli tanks.

Rocket salvos were again fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory.

Communications cut 

International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric, visiting Gaza, described the suffering as “intolerable”.

Conditions worsened further today with all mobile and telephone services across Gaza severed “due to the cut-off of main fibre routes from the Israeli side”, the PalTel company said.

Gazans were already short of food, water and other essentials including fuel.

Israel’s ally the United States has asked Israel to let more fuel in, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said today.

The US intensified calls for the protection of Gaza’s civilians, and Miller voiced guarded praise for Israeli tactics as its campaign expands in the south.

“We’ve seen a much more targeted request for evacuations” than in the earlier campaign in the north, he said.

“So that is an improvement on what’s happened before.”

palestinians-look-at-the-destruction-by-the-israeli-bombardment-of-the-gaza-strip-in-rafah-monday-dec-4-2023-ap-photohatem-ali Palestinians look at the destruction by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Rafah Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Israel said that it was not seeking to force Palestinian civilians to permanently leave their homes.

“We have asked civilians to evacuate the battlefield and we have provided a designated humanitarian zone inside the Gaza Strip,” military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, referring to a tiny coastal area of the territory named Al-Mawasi.

Any suggestion of Palestinian dispersal is highly contentious in the Arab world as the war that led to Israel’s creation 75 years ago gave rise to the exodus or forced displacement of 760,000 Palestinians.

At the United Nations today, Israel and Palestinian representatives traded accusations of “genocide” over the war, both sides demanding an international response.

With fears of a wider regional conflagration, a United States destroyer shot down multiple drones over the Red Sea while assisting commercial ships yesterday, according to the US Central Command.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels, which like Hamas are backed by Iran, said they had targeted two of the ships.

On Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the Israeli army said it had launched artillery strikes in response to cross-border fire, and its fighter jets hit targets linked to Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The Israel-occupied West Bank has also seen a surge in violence, with more than 250 Palestinians killed there since the war began, according to Palestinian authorities.

The Palestinian Authority’s health ministry said Monday two more were shot dead in an Israeli raid on the town of Qalqilya, and a third in Qalandia refugee camp.

Despite the war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, suspended when the war began, resumed today.

He is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.

Includes reporting by Press Association and - © AFP 2023