Israel bombs south Gaza after Hamas hostage threat

Citizen Voice Desk

Heavy urban battles raged on Monday in the bloodiest ever Gaza war which has killed 101 Israeli soldiers and around 18,000 Palestinians, according to the latest reported death tolls, amid a spiralling humanitarian crisis.

Hamas, which started the war with its October 7 attacks in which 1,200 people were killed in southern Israel,

warned the remaining 137 hostages it is holding won’t survive the conflict unless Israel meets its demands and frees more Palestinian prisoners.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the Islamist group to “surrender now” after his national security advisor claimed the army had killed some 7,000 militants in fighting that has been concentrated in southern Gaza.

“It is the beginning of the end of Hamas. I say to the Hamas terrorists: It’s over. Don’t die for (Yahya) Sinwar,” the right-wing premier said on Sunday, referring to the Hamas chief in the Gaza Strip.

More air strikes rained down on the biggest southern city of Khan Yunis overnight, AFP correspondents reported, while deadly fighting and bombing were also reported in central and northern urban areas of Gaza.

Islamic Jihad militants said they had blown up a house in Khan Yunis where Israeli soldiers were searching for a tunnel shaft.

Air strikes also hit Rafah in the far south, said Umm Mohammed al Jabri, 56, who said she had fled there from Gaza City seeking safety but had lost seven children in the bombardment.

“Everything is gone,” she said. “I have four children left out of 11. Last night they bombed the house we were in and destroyed it. They said Rafah would be a safe place. There is no safe place.” The Hamas-run health ministry said Monday that dozens more people had been killed, adding to its latest death toll of 17,997, mostly women and children, in the war now in its third month.

The ministry said 32 dead had arrived at Khan Yunis’ Nasser hospital in the past 24 hours, and that dozens had also been killed in the central Nuseirat and Maghazi areas and in Gaza City and Jabalia in the north.

Hamas triggered the conflict with the deadliest-ever attack on Israel on October 7 that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures, and saw 240 hostages taken back to Gaza.

Israel says that some 137 hostages remain in Gaza after a week-long ceasefire late last month saw dozens of captives exchanged for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas on Sunday warned that Israel would not receive “their prisoners alive without an exchange and negotiation and meeting the demands of the resistance”, including the release of more prisoners from Israeli jails.

The UN General Assembly was set to meet Tuesday to discuss the dire situation in Gaza, its president said, after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution for a ceasefire last Friday.

A draft of the text seen by AFP closely follows the language of Friday’s failed resolution, “expressing grave concern over the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken again rejected a ceasefire.

“With Hamas still alive, still intact and… with the stated intent of repeating October 7 again and again and again, that would simply perpetuate the problem,” he told ABC News on Sunday.

But Blinken also said Washington was “deeply, deeply aware of the terrible human toll that this conflict is taking on innocent men, women and children”.

The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced — roughly half of them children — by the war and intense bombing campaign that has reduced vast areas to rubble.

Israel had urged civilians to seek refuge in Gaza’s far south, but the army has kept striking targets throughout the territory, leading to UN warnings that there is no safe place left in Gaza.

The army has published complex maps that break up Gaza into dozens of ostensibly safe and unsafe areas, but Palestinians say these are confusing and hard to access amid power and telecom outages.

Lynn Hastings, UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, condemned the mapping software as inadequate.

“A unilateral declaration by an occupying power that patches of land where there is no infrastructure, food, water, health care or hygiene are ‘safe zones’ does not mean they are safe,” she said.

The war and siege have taken a heavy toll on basic services, especially health care, with only 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals functioning at any capacity, according to the UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

“Gaza’s health system is on its knees and collapsing,” said World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

AFP visited the Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City and found at least 30,000 people taking refuge amid the rubble outside after Israeli forces raided the medical facility last month.

“Our life has become a living hell,” said Mohammed Daloul, 38, who fled there with his wife and three children. “There’s no electricity, no water, no flour, no bread, no medicine for the children who are all sick.” Palestinians groups called for a general strike Monday in solidarity with Gaza, and many shops, schools and government offices were shut across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem.

The war has heightened fears the conflict will expand between Israel and its US allies on the one hand, and Iran-backed armed groups on the other, including Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Pro-Iran groups have launched attacks against US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria, and Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels have threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid is allowed into Gaza.

Israeli strikes overnight near Damascus killed two Hezbollah fighters and two Syrians working with the Lebanese group, said war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

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