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Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo

Israel continues to strike Gaza after UN Security Council demands aid be rushed in 'at scale'

UN Security Council yesterday approved a resolution demanding “immediate, safe and unhindered” deliveries of life-saving aid.

LAST UPDATE | 23 Dec 2023

ISRAEL HAS PRESSED its Gaza offensive today, with Hamas reporting heavy shelling in several cities hours after world powers demanded more aid be allowed into the besieged Palestinian territory.

Clouds of grey and black smoke rose over the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis after strikes in the morning.

The Gaza health ministry reported 18 people killed in a strike on a house in Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, and said other targets were hit up and down the coastal Gaza Strip.

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said on today that at least 20,258 people had been killed in the Palestinian territory since the start of war with Israel on October 7.

The latest toll includes 201 fatalities in the past 24 hours, the ministry said. Most of the dead are women and children.

The bombardments came after the UN Security Council approved a resolution demanding “immediate, safe and unhindered” deliveries of life-saving aid be rushed to Gaza “at scale”. Members had wrangled for days over the wording.

At Washington’s insistence, they toned down some provisions and avoided calling for a ceasefire that would stop the war, which began with unprecedented attacks 11 weeks ago by Hamas militants on civilians in southern Israel.

It is still unclear what, if any, impact the vote will have on the ground, where Gazans have been forced into crowded shelters or tents, and are struggling to find food, fuel, water and medical care.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a “humanitarian ceasefire” is the only way for aid “to be effectively delivered”.

The issue was not the number of aid trucks, he said, but “the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles” to aid distribution.

Famine looms

Immediately after the UN vote, Israel again vowed to fight on until Hamas is “eliminated” and hostages are freed.

“Israel will continue the war in Gaza,” said Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, insisting the war was legal and just.

Fighting began on 7 October when Hamas gunmen broke through Gaza’s border and killed about 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Palestinian militants also abducted about 250 people, 129 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a relentless bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza, where 20,057 people have been killed, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas government.

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.

Allies, including the United States which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, have increasingly pressured Israel to avoid civilian casualties.

palestinians-inspect-a-house-after-it-was-hit-by-an-israeli-bombardment-on-rafah-southern-gaza-strip-thursday-dec-21-2023-ap-photofatima-shbair Palestinians inspect a house after it was hit by an Israeli bombardment on Rafah, southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Israel insists Hamas is to blame for mass civilian deaths, accusing the Islamists of using innocent Palestinians as “human shields” and operating out of hospitals, schools and UN facilities.

A report by Washington’s Director of National Intelligence, quoted this month by US media, said nearly half of munitions dropped by Israeli aircraft on Gaza were “dumb” bombs – less accurate unguided munitions. Israeli air force officers have disputed this.

Photos approved for release by Israel’s army show soldiers operating in a wasteland of rubble where fires burn.

The UN estimates the fighting has displaced 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million population.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a majority of those uprooted from their homes were now going “entire days and nights without eating”, and “famine is looming”.

Displaced again 

A one-week truce that Qatar helped mediate, with support from Egypt and the US, ended on 1 December. It saw 80 Israeli hostages released from Gaza captivity in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel has repeatedly told Palestinians to make their way to areas in the narrow Gaza Strip it says are safe, but even when they do, residents say they have still been bombarded.

Many Gazans have been forced to move multiple times.

Yesterday, thousands fled central Gaza after an army evacuation order. It warned residents of Bureij, a refugee camp established about 70 years ago, to move “for their own security” towards Deir al-Balah city further south.

Donkey carts creaked with their belongings as they passed through the streets. Families pushed babies in prams and led elderly relatives through the crowd, packing winter blankets for the road ahead.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said the latest evacuation order would effect more than 150,000 people.

“The Israeli army just orders people to move into areas where there are ongoing air strikes,” Thomas White, UNRWA’s Gaza director, wrote on social media.

representatives-of-member-countries-take-vote-during-the-security-council-meeting-at-united-nations-headquarters-friday-dec-22-2023-after-many-delays-the-u-n-security-council-adopted-a-watered Representatives of member countries take vote during the Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Yesterday’s UN resolution only passed thanks to US and Russian abstentions. It gives the UN a bigger role in coordinating the delivery of aid to Gaza.

But Israel’s foreign minister insisted his country “will continue to screen all humanitarian aid to Gaza for security reasons”.

Hamas described the resolution as “an insufficient measure that does not respond to the catastrophic situation created by the Zionist (Israeli) war machine”.

Drone strike off India

On 15 December, Israel approved the delivery of aid via its Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza. The military yesterday organised a media tour of the facility, where a kilometres-long queue of aid trucks awaited inspection.

Today, a drone strike damaged a merchant ship in waters off Veraval, India, maritime agencies said.

There was no immediate claim of responsiblity but the attack adds to fears of regional escalation from the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Missiles from Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels have disrupted Red Sea shipping.

“We know that Iran was deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” US National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said.

There have also been regular exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border, between Israeli forces and Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement which, like Hamas, is backed by Iran.

Israel yesterday said rocket fire from Lebanon had killed one of its soldiers near the frontier. Hezbollah said Israeli fire killed two of its fighters.

© AFP 2023