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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: -2°C
Alamy Stock Photo Smoke rises after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip

Israeli troops seize control of Gaza port as UN warns of risk of starvation

The ground campaign has taken aim at key sites like Gaza government buildings and infrastructure.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 16th 2023, 9:32 PM

ISRAELI TROOPS HAVE advanced their campaign to destroy Hamas in Gaza, fighting gun battles and taking control of a key port a day after a raid on the territory’s main hospital.

The ground campaign has taken aim at key sites like Gaza government buildings and infrastructure, but also the Al-Shifa hospital that Israel says sits atop a Hamas command centre – a charge the group denies.

Bombardment thundered and gunfire rattled in besieged Gaza, AFP live video showed.

The Israeli army said today its troops had taken “operational control” of the port at Gaza City in the territory’s north, showing at least a dozen tanks and groups of soldiers massed on the coast near Gaza City.

Israel has concentrated its heavy bombardment and ground offensive in Gaza City, announcing this week the seizure of the parliament building, government offices and Hamas police headquarters.

The Red Crescent said Israeli tanks were laying siege to Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital in a “violent attack” today, as Israel accuses Hamas of using health facilities as bases.

“Teams are unable to move and reach those who are injured,” the organisation said on X, formerly Twitter.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, warned of a deliberate attempt to paralyse its operations.

“I do believe there is a deliberate attempt to strangle our operation and paralyse the UNRWA operation,” he told a press conference in Geneva.

Lazzarini also said that Gaza is “again in a total communication blackout, and… it is because there is no fuel”.

The Palestinian telecom company Paltel confirmed the blackout, saying on X, formerly Twitter: “We regret to announce that all telecom services in Gaza Strip have gone out of service as all energy sources sustaining the network have been depleted, and fuel was not allowed in.”

destroyed-buildings-stand-in-the-gaza-strip-as-seen-from-southern-israel-thursday-nov-16-2023-ap-photoleo-correa Alamy Stock Photo Destroyed buildings stand in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel Alamy Stock Photo

Hamas is an Islamic militant group who are deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, among other powers. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and taking power by force.

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas in retaliation for the attacks of 7 October, which killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw about 240 people hostage, according to Israeli officials.

The Israeli military says 51 of its troops have been killed in Gaza since fighting began.

But with the health ministry saying the death toll from the offensive has now topped 11,500, including thousands of children, calls for a truce are mounting.

The military said last night that it launched an additional operation at Al-Shifa, hours after a pre-dawn raid that Israeli forces said uncovered rifles, ammunition and explosives from the compound.

Both Israel and its top ally the US say Hamas has built tunnels below the Al-Shifa complex.

The Palestinian militant group and directors at the hospital have denied the charge, and Hamas also rejected reports of weapons being at the site.

The UN’s World Food Programme said today that civilians in Gaza face starvation because food and water had become “practically non-existent”.

“With winter fast approaching, unsafe and overcrowded shelters, and the lack of clean water, civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation,” the executive director of the Rome-based WFP, Cindy McCain, said in a statement.

The agency, which has been warning of increasing hunger for weeks in Gaza, said that bread was now “scarce or non-existent” and that it was impossible to “meet current hunger needs with one operational border crossing”.

It said the only hope would be to open a second safe passage to bring food into Gaza. 

Military equipment

Israel’s army claimed an initial raid in Al-Shifa had uncovered military equipment, weapons and what spokesman Daniel Hagari described as “an operational headquarters with comms equipment”.

A video narrated by another Israeli army spokesman showed rifles, ammunition and ammo magazines inside an area he identified as Al-Shifa’s MRI scanner building.

The health ministry in Gaza argued yesterday the Israeli military did not find any weapons when it raided the hospital.

a-palestinian-boy-stands-among-the-destruction-after-israeli-strikes-on-rafah-gaza-strip-wednesday-nov-15-2023-ap-photohatem-ali Alamy Stock Photo A Palestinian boy stands among the destruction after Israeli strikes on Rafah, Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo

‘Mildly hopeful’ on hostage talks

Polls in Israel show widespread public support for military action against Hamas following the 7 October attacks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday boasted there was no safe place for Hamas and “no place in Gaza” the army would not reach.

“They told us we wouldn’t reach the outskirts of Gaza City and we did, they told us we wouldn’t enter Al-Shifa and we did,” he said.

But Netanyahu, who has led Israel on-and-off for 16 years, is under intense domestic pressure to account for political and security failings surrounding the attack.

Protesters have taken to the streets demanding greater efforts to free the hostages.

Qatar, which hosts a Hamas political office and also has communication channels with Israel, has meanwhile led negotiations for the release of the hostages.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Biden said he was “mildly hopeful” there would be a deal.

Irish citizens

The death and suffering in the densely populated coastal territory has prompted growing concern for Gaza’s civilians, who have fled south to try to escape the heaviest fighting.

A group of Irish citizens yesterday made the journey out of Gaza and into Egypt via the Rafah crossing.

The group of 23 individuals included Irish citizens and their relatives. Their processing at the border took several hours. 

It was the first time that Irish citizens who have been stuck in Gaza since conflict broke out in the region have been able to leave.

Several more Irish citizens departed Gaza today.

A spokesperson in the Department of Foreign Affairs told The Journal this morning that it “welcomes the inclusion of more Irish citizens on the list for departure from Gaza today”.

“We have continued to stay in contact with our citizens in Gaza overnight and throughout this morning. The consular team from our Embassy in Cairo are again at Rafah to provide support and transport onwards from the border,” they added. 

IMG_3664 Hannah McCarthy Micheál Martin meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen in Sderdot today Hannah McCarthy

Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Micháel Martin Minister Micháel Martin is on an official trip to Israel today, where he is visiting towns attacked by Hamas on 7 October.

While speaking to press in Jerusalem after visiting communities in southern Israel targeted by Hamas, Martin thanked Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen for assisting Irish citizens to be evacuated from Gaza.

The Tánaiste said Cohen gave him “assurances that the majority of those citizens will be able to leave Gaza within the next three days”.

“We know that there are some coming up today – although there has been a delay in respect to the processing side,” he said.

“It impacts on all foreign nationals coming out of Gaza.”

Includes reporting by Hannah McCarthy in Israel, Hayley Halpin, Lauren Boland and © AFP 2023