UN pushes for more aid into Gaza; Israel widens offensive

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The UN Security Council approved a toned-down bid to boost humanitarian aid to Gaza and sought steps to create conditions to end fighting on Friday, hours after Israel signaled it was widening its ground offensive in the Palestinian enclave.

The United States, which is Israel’s main ally and had threatened to veto the Security Council motion during days of wrangling, chose instead to abstain after language was changed on ending hostilities and monitoring aid, a move that let the vote go through.

Washington has regularly backed Israel’s right to defend itself, but has grown increasingly concerned at the suffering of Gaza’s 2.3 million people amid a soaring death toll and a humanitarian crisis in the enclave.

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In its latest update on casualties, Gaza’s health ministry said 20,057 Palestinians had been killed and 53,320 wounded in Israeli strikes since October 7.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has vowed to eradicate Hamas, the Palestinian group that runs Gaza, after the group’s fighters launched a cross-border raid into southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 21, 2023. (AP)
Palestinians line up for a free meal in Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 21, 2023. (AP)

The adopted Security Council resolution “calls for urgent steps to immediately allow safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access and to create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.” The initial draft had called for “an urgent and sustainable cessation of hostilities” to allow aid access.

The resolution also no longer diluted Israel’s control over all aid deliveries to Gaza. Israel monitors the limited aid deliveries via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israeli-controlled Kerem Shalom crossing.

Before the UN vote, Israel said 5,405 aid trucks - carrying food, water and medical supplies - have entered Gaza since the start of the war. Aid groups say only a fraction of what is needed is coming in. A report by a UN-backed body said on Thursday the risk of famine is growing every day.

Airstrikes, bombardments

In Gaza on Friday, as hopes faded for an imminent breakthrough in talks this week in Egypt aimed at getting warring Israel and Hamas to agree to a new truce, airstrikes, artillery bombardments and fighting were reported across the coastal strip.

Israel’s military ordered residents of Al-Bureij, in central Gaza, to move south immediately, indicating a new focus of the ground assault that has already devastated the north of the enclave and made a series of incursions in the south.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border, December 21, 2023. (AP)
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip, in a position near the Israel-Gaza border, December 21, 2023. (AP)

Some residents packed up donkey carts and left, but there was no immediate sign of large numbers from Al-Bureij joining the hundreds of thousands fleeing other areas.

“Where should we go to? There is no place safe,” Ziad, a medic and father of six, told Reuters by phone. “They ask people to head to (the central Gaza city of) Deir Al-Balah, where they bomb day and night.”

Residents reported Israeli tank shelling of eastern areas of Al-Bureij.

Israeli forces have previously engaged with Hamas gunmen on the edges of Al-Bureij but have yet to thrust deeper into the built-up area, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.

In the south, at least four civilians were killed in an airstrike on a car in Rafah, a Palestinian rescue worker said. A boy, his face covered in blood, and a girl, were carried away from the scene, video showed. There was no immediate Israeli comment.

“Israel’s indiscriminate strikes on Gaza have turned the north of the Strip into a pile of rubble,” medical charity MSF said in a post on X. “In Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, south Gaza, the dead and wounded continue to arrive almost every day... Nowhere is safe.”

Israeli troops take positions in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, December 21, 2023. (AP)
Israeli troops take positions in the Gaza Strip as seen from southern Israel, December 21, 2023. (AP)

The Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but has blamed Iran-backed Hamas for operating in densely populated areas or using civilians as human shields, an allegation the group denies.

Israel says 140 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched its ground incursion into Gaza on October 20.

Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported heavy shelling and airstrikes on Jabalia al-Balad and Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, and said that Israeli vehicles were trying to advance from the western side of Jabalia amid the sound of gunfire.

Reports in Palestinian media and footage shared by Gazans on social media showed bodies scattered in the street and some buried under rubble around the Indonesian hospital in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza.

The Israeli military said in a statement its air force destroyed a long-range missile launch site in Juhor ad-Dik, central Gaza, from which, it said, “recent launches into Israeli territory were carried out” - a possible reference to an attack on Tel Aviv on Thursday.

A group representing families of Gaza hostages said on Friday that one captive - 73-year-old Gadi Haggai, a US-Israeli dual national - had died in captivity. It did not give details or say how the information was obtained.

-With Reuters

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