Israel Palestine Conflict

Israel expands offensive in Gaza as death toll mounts

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Israel expanded its offensive in the Gaza Strip on Monday, as international concern deepened over the mounting civilian death toll of Palestinians in the overcrowded besieged territory.

The return to open warfare after a truce between Israel and Hamas expired has had ripple effects around a region on the cusp of a wider conflagration.

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Israel vowed to hit south Gaza – where it had previously forced Palestinians to evacuate – with “no less strength” than the fight that has reduced large parts of north Gaza to a moonscape.

Residents said the military dropped leaflets calling Khan Younis “a dangerous combat zone” and ordering them to move to the border city of Rafah or a coastal area in the southwest.

Halima Abdel-Rahman, a widow and mother of four, told The Associated Press she’s stopped heeding such orders.

She fled her home in October to an area outside Khan Younis, where she stays with relatives.

“The occupation tells you to go to this area, then they bomb it,” she said by phone. “The reality is that no place is safe in Gaza.

They kill people in the north. They kill people in the south.”

Since the expiry of the truce on Friday, Israeli troops have advanced in Gaza and launched dozens of airstrikes on the Palestinian territory.

In return, the militant group has fired rockets towards Israel, most of which had been intercepted.

Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes on northern Gaza threw thick clouds of smoke and dust into the sky.

Israeli airstrikes hit the entrance of the Kamal Adwan hospital in the north of the territory late Sunday, according to the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

Several people were killed in the strike, the news agency said, while Hamas accused Israel on Telegram of a “grave violation” of humanitarian law.

Contacted by AFP, the Israeli military did not immediately comment on the alleged strike.

Israel claims Hamas uses hospitals and other civilian infrastructure for military purposes – an accusation that the militant group denies and international human rights groups have said constitute as a war crime because it is a form of collective punishment.

“The IDF continues to expand its ground operation against main Hamas fronts in the Gaza Strip,” Israel military spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Sunday.

“Wherever there is a Hamas stronghold, the IDF operates,” he said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.

‘Impasse in negotiations’

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in retaliation for the militant group’s October 7 attacks, in which Israeli officials say 1,200 were killed and about 240 were taken hostage.

More than 15,500 people have been killed by Israel in Gaza since October 7, more than half of them women and children.

Under a truce mediated by Qatar with support from Egypt and the United States, 80 Israeli hostages were freed, in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 29, 2023. (File photo: Reuters)
Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, November 29, 2023. (File photo: Reuters)

More than two dozen other captives were also freed from Gaza.

However, fighting resumed on Friday despite international calls for an extension.

The next day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Israeli negotiators were being withdrawn from Qatar “following the impasse in the negotiations” aimed at renewing the truce.

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

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had carried out around 10,000 airstrikes since the war started.

Israel on Sunday said two of its soldiers had died in combat, the first since the end of the truce.

“In the past few hours, only 316 dead and 664 injured people have been rescued from the rubble and taken to hospital, but many others are still stuck under the rubble,” Hamas’s health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a statement.

The mounting death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international concern over Israel’s conduct of the war to eradicate Hamas.

On Sunday, hospitals in southern Gaza were overflowing with dead and wounded, some crying out in pain.

“I am running out of ways to describe the horrors hitting children here,” James Elder, a spokesman for the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, said in a video from Nasser hospital in Khan Ypunis.

“This is the worst bombardment of the war right now in south Gaza. I am seeing massive child casualties,” he said in the video, posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Nine-year-old Huda, who was wounded in the head, arrived at the Deir al-Balah hospital with an International Committee of the Red Cross convoy bringing casualties from northern Gaza.

“She doesn’t answer me anymore,” her father Abdelkarim Abu Warda said, sobbing.

With AFP.

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