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Israel opens aid crossing to Gaza, steps up bombardment

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18 December 2023, The Canberra Times

Israel has opened a direct crossing for aid into Gaza for the first time in its more than two-month-old war on Hamas while also stepping up attacks on the Palestinian enclave, saying military pressure is the only way its hostages will be freed.

The Israeli attacks took place amid fierce fighting the length of the coastal strip, according to residents and militants, with communications down for a fourth day, making it hard to reach the wounded.

“The communication blackout in Gaza is the longest since the start of the Israeli escalation,” the Palestinian Red Crescent said on X, adding that its teams were also hampered by shelling.

Telecommunications were gradually being restored in central and southern areas, telecoms companies said later.

Hopes for peace had been raised on Saturday when a source said Israel’s spy chief had spoken on Friday with the prime minister of Qatar, which mediated hostage releases in return for a week-long ceasefire and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners.

In a further positive sign, the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza opened for aid trucks on Sunday for the first time since the outbreak of war, officials said, in a move to double the amount of food and medicine reaching Gazans.

But Israel cast doubt on whether the aid would be distributed, accusing aid officials of not distributing aid that had crossed from Egypt, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “fight to the end”.

Aid agencies say aid distribution has been disrupted by the violence.

Hamas said it would not discuss freeing any more of those captured when its fighters raided southern Israel on October 7 while Israel continues its attacks.

Israeli missile strikes on a house belonging to the Shehab family killed 24 people and wounded dozens of others in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Hamas al-Aqsa radio said, quoting the director of the health ministry.

The son of Dawoud Shehab, spokesman of Hamas-ally Islamic Jihad, was among the dead, an official from the group told Reuters.

A medic said dozens people had been killed or wounded in the Shehab family home and others nearby that were also hit.

“We believe the number of dead people under the rubble is huge but there is no way to remove the rubble and recover them because of the intensity of Israeli fire,” he said by telephone, using an e-sim that can connect to outside networks and declining to give a name fearing Israeli reprisal.

In Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, medics said 12 Palestinians had been killed and dozens were wounded while in Rafah in the south, they said an Israeli air strike left at least four people dead.

Israel said it had operated against “terrorist” targets.

About 19,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, and thousands buried in the rubble of Israeli air strikes since October 7 when Hamas militants killed 1200 people, according to Israeli authorities, and captured 240 hostages in their surprise raid.

Israel’s military said on Sunday that 121 soldiers had been killed since the ground campaign began on October 27, when tanks and infantry began to push into Gaza’s cities and refugee camps.

Netanyahu read out a letter at his weekly cabinet meeting which he said was written by relatives of dead soldiers.

“You have a mandate to fight. You do not have a mandate to stop in the middle,” he quoted them as saying, responding: “We will fight to the end.”

The toll is already almost twice as high as during a ground offensive in 2014, a reflection of how far it has pushed into the enclave and of Hamas’ effective use of guerrilla tactics and an expanded arsenal.

The Israeli military said its troops had found weapons and a tunnel used by militants to attack troops in Shejaia, a suburb east of Gaza City in the north, and destroyed a weapons storage facility in the home of a Hamas operative.

The Israeli military said it had killed seven “terrorists” in an air strike on Khan Younis and found rocket manufacturing parts and three tunnel shafts near a school used as a shelter.

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Article source: The Canberra Times. 2023.12.18

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000