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Fighting rages across Gaza as death toll tops 35,000

BI Desk || BusinessInsider

Published: 00:20, 13 May 2024  
Fighting rages across Gaza as death toll tops 35,000

Photo: Collected

Israel struck Gaza on Sunday and troops battled Hamas in several areas of the Hamas-run territory, where the health ministry said the death toll in the war had exceeded 35,000 people.

More than seven months into the Israel-Hamas war, UN chief Antonio Guterres urged "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and an immediate surge in humanitarian aid" into the besieged Gaza Strip, reports BSS/AFP.

"But a ceasefire will only be the start," Guterres told a donor conference in Kuwait, where countries pledged over $2 billion to aid the devastated Palestinian territory.

"It will be a long road back from the devastation and trauma of this war," he added.

As Egyptian, Qatari and American mediation efforts towards a truce appeared to stall, US President Joe Biden said on Saturday a ceasefire could be achieved "tomorrow" if Hamas released the hostages held in Gaza since the October 7 attack that sparked the conflict.

The Hamas group on Sunday called Biden's statement a "setback" to the negotiations, and said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "rushed to overturn" the talks by launching the Rafah offensive.

AFP correspondents, witnesses and medics said Israeli air strikes pounded parts of northern, central and southern Gaza overnight and into Sunday morning.

Israel's military said its jets had hit "over 150 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip" over the past day.

In Rafah, Gaza's southernmost city which sits on the border with Egypt, the Kuwaiti hospital said Sunday it had received the bodies of "18 martyrs" killed over the past 24 hours.

The territory's health ministry said at least 63 people had been killed over the previous 24 hours, bringing the overall death toll from Israel's bombardment and offensive in Gaza to at least 35,034 people, mostly women and children.

- Fighting in northern Gaza -

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The Hamas also seized hostages, scores of whom were freed during a week-long truce in November. Israel estimates 128 captives remain in Gaza, including 36 who the military says are dead.

The Israeli military says 272 soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground offensive in Gaza on October 27.

Months after Israel said it had dismantled Hamas's command structure in northern Gaza, fighting has resumed in Jabalia refugee camp and Gaza City's Zeitoun neighbourhood.

Military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said late Saturday that "in recent weeks we have identified attempts by Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities in Jabalia, and we are acting to destroy these attempts". He also said there was an operation in Zeitoun.

AFP correspondents reported intense clashes and heavy gunfire from Israeli helicopters in the Zeitoun area, with medics and witnesses saying troops were fighting in both Zeitoun and Jabalia.

Israel defied international opposition this week and sent tanks and soldiers into eastern Rafah, effectively shutting a key aid crossing.

On Saturday, the Israeli military expanded an evacuation order for eastern Rafah and said 300,000 Palestinians had left the area.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, gave a similar estimate of "around 300,000 people" who have fled Rafah over the past week, decrying in a post on X the "forced and inhumane displacement of Palestinians" who have "nowhere safe to go" in Gaza.

"We have reached a point where we wish for death," said Umm Mohammed Al-Mughayyir, adding that she has had to move her family seven times to escape the fighting.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned on Sunday that the evacuation orders, "much less a full assault", could not be "reconciled with the binding requirements of international law" or two recent International Court of Justice rulings on Israel's conduct of the war.

And in a sign of surging regional tensions, Egypt on Sunday said it would formally support a case brought by South Africa at the ICJ, accusing Israel of committing genocidal acts in the war.

- 'No safe place' -

Palestinians in Rafah, many already displaced by fighting elsewhere in the territory, piled water tanks, mattresses and other belongings onto vehicles and prepared to flee again.

"The artillery shelling didn't stop at all" for several days, said Mohammed Hamad, 24, who has left eastern Rafah for the city's west.

"We will not move until we feel that the danger is advancing to the west," he told AFP.

"There is no safe place in Gaza where we can take refuge."

Residents were told to go to the "humanitarian zone" of Al-Mawasi on the coast northwest of Rafah, though aid groups have warned it was not ready for an influx of people.

Hisham Adwan, spokesman for the Gaza crossings authority, told AFP on Sunday the Rafah crossing has remained closed since Israeli troops seized its Palestinian side on Tuesday, "preventing the entry of humanitarian aid" and the departure of patients needing medical care.

He said Israeli forces "have advanced from the eastern border" about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 miles) into Rafah.

At the Kerem Shalom crossing, the site of multiple clashes, the army said it had intercepted two launches fired at it from Rafah.

And in Tel Aviv on Saturday, protesters again demanded that the government do more to reach a truce and hostage release deal.

The rally came hours after Hamas's armed wing said Israeli-British hostage Nadav Popplewell had died in captivity. The military did not offer any comment on the Hamas statement.