Home International Israel pummels southern Gaza as hunger tightens grip

Israel pummels southern Gaza as hunger tightens grip

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Israeli warplanes and tanks pounded southern Gaza overnight and on Tuesday, and the UN said aid distribution to Gazans facing growing hunger had largely stopped because of the intensity of fighting in the two-month-old war between Israel and Hamas.

Smoke and debris rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 11, 2023. Picture: Reuters, Clodagh Kilcoyne

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Michelle Nichols

CAIRO/UNITED NATIONS – Israeli warplanes and tanks pounded southern Gaza overnight and on Tuesday, and the UN said aid distribution to Gazans facing growing hunger had largely stopped because of the intensity of fighting in the two-month-old war between Israel and Hamas.

In the southern Gazan city of Rafah, which borders Egypt, health officials said 22 people including children were killed in an Israeli air strike on houses overnight. Civil emergency workers were searching for more victims under the rubble.

Residents said the shelling of Rafah, where the Israeli army this month ordered people to head for their safety, was some of the heaviest in days.

“At night we can’t sleep because of the bombing and in the morning we tour the streets looking for food for the children, there is no food,” said Abu Khalil, 40, a father of six, speaking to Reuters by phone from Rafah.

“I couldn’t find bread and the prices of rice, salt or beans have doubled several times over. This is starvation,” he said. “Israel kills us twice, once by bombs and once by hunger.”

In Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s main city, residents said tank shelling focused on the city centre. One said tanks were operating on Tuesday morning in the street where the house of Yahya Al-Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, is located. Health officials said two people were killed overnight in the city.

Hundreds more civilians have been killed in Israel’s assault on the Palestinian enclave since the US on Friday vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Aid agencies say hunger is worsening among Gazans, with the UN World Food Programme saying half of Gaza’s population is starving.

The UN humanitarian office (OCHA) said on Tuesday limited aid distributions were taking place in the Rafah district, but “in the rest of the Gaza Strip, aid distribution has largely stopped over the past few days, due to the intensity of hostilities and restrictions of movement along the main roads”.

Aid flows were also restricted by a shortage of trucks in Gaza, a continuing lack of fuel, communications blackouts, and growing numbers of staff unable to travel to the Rafah crossing with Egypt because of the intensity of hostilities, it said.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israeli forces had stormed the Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza on Tuesday and were rounding up males, including medical staff, in the hospital courtyard.

Israel’s military did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the report.

Israel says its instructions to people to move are among measures it is taking to protect civilians as it tries to root out Hamas militants who killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage in an October 7 cross-border attack on Israel, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 hostages have since been freed.

BIDEN SAYS NETANYAHU IN ‘TOUGH SPOT’

Israel’s retaliatory assault has killed 18,205 people and wounded nearly 50,000, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The 193-member General Assembly is likely to pass a draft resolution on Tuesday that mirrors the language of the one blocked by the US in the 15-member Security Council last week.

General Assembly resolutions are not binding but carry political weight and reflect global views.

Some diplomats predict the vote will receive more support than the assembly’s October call for “an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.”

US President Joe Biden, who has been criticised for his support of Israel’s response to the October 7 attack, told a White House celebration for the Jewish holiday of Hannukah on Monday that his commitment to Israel was “unshakeable”.

“Folks, were there no Israel, there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world that was safe,” Biden said. He also alluded to his complex relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he said was in a “tough spot”.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters Israel was no exception to US policy that any country receiving US weapons must comply with the laws of war.

NEW AID SCREENING SYSTEM

UN officials say 1.9 million people – 85% of Gaza’s population – are displaced, and describe conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.

Displaced people sheltering in Rafah have erected tents of wood and nylon in open areas. Some are sleeping in streets.

To increase the aid reaching Gaza, Israel said on Monday it would add shipment screening at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, without opening the crossing itself.

Most trucks entered Gaza at this crossing before the war. Two Egyptian security sources said inspections would begin on Tuesday under a new deal between Israel, Egypt and the U.S.

After a week-long ceasefire collapsed on December 1, Israel began a ground offensive in the south and has since pushed from the east into the heart of Khan Younis city.

– REUTERS

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