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Israel unleashes ‘most intense day’

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7 December 2023, The Age, by Simon Lewis

Deir al-Balah: Israeli troops have entered Gaza’s second-largest city as intensified bombardment sent streams of ambulances and vehicles racing to hospitals with wounded and dead Palestinians in a bloody new phase of the war.

The military said its forces were ‘‘in the heart’’ of Khan Younis, which has emerged as the first target in the expanded ground offensive into southern Gaza that Israel says aims to destroy Hamas. Military officials said they were engaged in the ‘‘most intense day’’ of battles since the ground offensive began more than five weeks ago, with heavy firefights also taking place in northern Gaza.

The assault into the south is triggering a new wave of displaced Palestinians, raising warnings from relief groups that they can’t keep up because supplies are insufficient and combat prevents aid distribution.

Bombardment has grown fiercer across the territory, including areas where Palestinians are told to seek safety. In the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah, just north of Khan Younis, a strike destroyed a house where dozens of displaced people were sheltering. At least 34 people were killed, including at least six children, according to an Associated Press reporter at the hospital who counted the bodies.

Footage from the scene showed women screaming from the upper floor of a house shattered to a concrete shell. In the wreckage below, men pulled the limp body of a child from under a slab next to a burning car. At the nearby hospital, medics tried to resuscitate a young boy and girl on a stretcher.

Under US pressure to prevent further mass casualties, Israel says it is being more precise and is taking extra steps to urge civilians to evacuate out of its path. Weeks of bombardment and a ground offensive have obliterated much of northern Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military would have to retain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip long after the war ended.

Netanyahu said Gaza would have to be demilitarised, and the only body capable of ensuring that would be the Israeli military.“No international force can be responsible for this,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not ready to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement.’’

Israel says it must remove Hamas from power to prevent a repeat of the October 7 attack that ignited the war.

Military chief of staff Herzi Halevi acknowledged that Israeli forces used heavy force against civilian structures, saying militants kept weapons in houses.

‘‘Striking them requires significant use of fire, both to target the enemy but also to, of course, protect our forces,’’ he said. ‘‘Therefore, the forces operate powerfully.’’

Halevi said his forces had begun the ‘‘third phase of the ground operations’’, moving against Hamas in the south after seizing much of the north. Israel has not given specific details on troop movements.

Residents said troops advanced to Bani Suheila, on Khan Younis’ eastern edge. Israeli forces also appear to be moving to partially cut across the strip between Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah.

The past days brought some of the heaviest bombardment of the entire war, the UN’s humanitarian affairs office OCHA said.

Casualties overwhelmed the nearby Nasser Hospital, where wounded men and children were lain on a bloody floor amid a tangle of IV tubes. In the morgue, a woman draped herself over the stretcher where her dead husband and child lay among at least nine bodies.

‘‘What’s happening here is unimaginable,’’ said Hamza al-Bursh, who lives near a Khan Younis school, where hundreds of displaced people were sheltering, that was hit by Israel. ‘‘They strike indiscriminately.’’

In northern Gaza, the military said its troops were battling Hamas militants in the Jabalia refugee camp and the district of Shujaiya. The battles in the north signalled the tough resistance from Hamas since Israeli forces moved in on October 27.

The military says 86 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive and that thousands of Hamas fighters have been killed.

Even after weeks of bombardment, Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehya Sinwar, whose location is unknown, was able to conduct complex ceasefire negotiations and orchestrate the release of more than 100 Israeli and foreign hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners last week.

Palestinian militants have also kept up their rocket fire into Israel.

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Article source: The Age / AP, Reuters | Simon Lewis | 7.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000