Israel bombed the Gaza Strip from north to south this Saturday (9), in a new phase of the war in the Palestinian territory, a conflict that completed two months this week. The attacks come a day after the United States used its veto power on the UN Security Council to protect its historic Middle East ally from a global demand for a ceasefire.
In the south of the territory, where most Palestinians fled after Israel’s ultimatum to leave the north, two of the last operating hospitals in the region reported 133 deaths and 259 injuries in 24 hours. According to local health authorities, there have been more than 17,000 deaths on the Palestinian side since the start of the war, which began after Israel suffered an attack by the terrorist group Hamas that claimed 1,200 victims.
According to the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA), almost 85% of the 2.3 million people living in the dense Palestinian territory have been displaced. With bombings spreading across the territory, residents and United Nations agencies say there are no longer safe places to go — Israel has blocked the main north-south route along the narrow strip and is directing people to the Mediterranean coast.
The dead and injured arrived overnight at the overwhelmed Nasser hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis. After an ambulance parked, a doctor got out of the vehicle with the inert body of a girl dressed in a pink sweater. Inside the health center, injured children cried and writhed on the tiled floor as nurses rushed to comfort them. Outside, bodies were lined up on white sheets.
In the same city, a house was consumed by fire after being hit during the night.
Zainab Khalil, 57, displaced with 30 relatives and friends in Khan Yunis said it appears to be “a matter of time” before Israel attacks her location. “We are hearing shelling all night,” she told the Reuters news agency. “We don’t sleep at night. We stay awake trying to get the children to sleep and afraid that the place will be bombed. During the day another tragedy begins: how to feed the children?”
There were no new numbers of deaths and injuries reported in other parts of Gaza, including the entire northern half, where hospitals have stopped functioning and ambulances can often no longer reach bombing sites. “We believe that the number of martyrs under the rubble may be greater than those received in hospitals,” Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health, told Reuters.
Bombings in the northern portion have been most intense in Gaza City and settlements near the border, where explosions could be seen from Israel along the entire wall that separates the Jewish state from Palestinian territory. Families in the region posted messages on social media pleading with emergency teams to try to rescue loved ones still trapped there.
“We appeal to the Red Cross and civil emergency to immediately go to the Attallah family home. People are besieged inside their house on Jala Street in Gaza City, near the Zaharna building. The house is on fire,” relatives wrote.
Since October 9, Israel has imposed an almost total siege on Gaza, making it difficult for water, food, medicine and electricity to arrive. Israeli bombings only ceased during the week-long truce that came into force on November 24, negotiated with the mediation of Qatar, Egypt and the United States.
During the week-long ceasefire that ended last Friday (1st), Tel Aviv and Hamas exchanged hostages for Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
On Wednesday (6), UN Secretary-General António Guterres invoked article 99 of the statute of the organization he leads to call an emergency meeting of the Security Council and alleviate the catastrophic situation in the Gaza Strip. However, the request for an immediate truce, which was voted in favor by 13 of the 15 council members, was blocked by Washington. The United Kingdom abstained.
For the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Mohammed Shtayyeh, the decision is “a shame” and “gives another blank check to the occupation to massacre, destroy and displace”. This Friday (8), Guterres stated that the population of Gaza is close to an “abyss” and is experiencing a “humanitarian nightmare”.
Over the past week, Israel has expanded its ground campaign into the southern half of the Gaza Strip, intensifying attacks on the southern main city, Khan Yunis. Simultaneously, both sides reported a significant increase in fighting in the north.
Israel says it is limiting harm to civilians by providing them with maps showing safe areas and blames Hamas for causing civilian deaths by hiding among them, which the fighters deny. Palestinians say the campaign has turned into a scorched earth war against the entire population.
Washington says it has asked Israel for more action to protect civilians in the next phase of the war. This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there is a “difference” between Israel’s promises to protect civilians and the outcome in the conflict.