Israel gave civilians still trapped inside freshly encircled Gaza City a four-hour window to leave on Tuesday, and residents escaping the city said they passed tanks in position to storm it.
* Gaza services are close to “breaking point” without fuel supplies, UN humanitarian office spokesperson says, adding that none of the 569 aid trucks that had reached the enclave so far were carrying fuel.
* Gaza’s interior ministry said on Tuesday all bakeries in northern Gaza are out of service due to Israeli attacks and lack of fuel.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose
GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel gave civilians still trapped inside freshly encircled Gaza City a four-hour window to leave on Tuesday, and residents escaping the city said they passed tanks in position to storm it.
Israel says its forces have surrounded Gaza City, home to a third of the enclave’s 2.3 million people, and are poised to attack it soon in their campaign to annihilate the Hamas Islamists who attacked Israeli towns exactly a month ago.
In some of the first direct comments on Israel’s plans for the future of Gaza after the war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would take on security responsibility for the territory for an indefinite period once it defeats the militants that have controlled it for the past 16 years.
War began on October 7 when the fighters burst across the fence surrounding Gaza and killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted more than 200, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel has pounded Hamas-run Gaza with strikes, killing more than 10,000 people, around 40 percent of them children, according to tallies by health officials there.
“It has been one full month of carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Volcker Turk said in a statement at the start of a trip to the region, during which he will visit the Rafah crossing from Egypt, the sole route for aid.
Israel gave residents a window from 10am until 2pm to leave Gaza City. Residents say Israeli tanks have been moving mostly at night, with Israeli forces largely relying on air and artillery strikes to clear a path for their ground advance.
“For your safety, take this next opportunity to move south beyond Wadi Gaza,” the military announced, referring to the wetlands that bisect the strip.
A still image taken from an Israeli military video showed what the military said were Palestinians holding white flags as they moved south in a line. Hamas said the army had forced the people in the video to act that way to humiliate them.
Gaza’s interior ministry says 900,000 Palestinians are still sheltering in northern Gaza including Gaza City.
“The most dangerous trip in my life. We saw the tanks from point blank. We saw decomposed body parts. We saw death,” resident Adam Fayez Zeyara posted with a selfie of himself on the road out of Gaza City.
While Israel’s military operation is focused on the northern half of Gaza, the south has also come under attack. Palestinian health officials said at least 23 people were killed in two separate Israeli air strikes early on Tuesday in the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.
“We are civilians,” said Ahmed Ayesh, who was rescued from the rubble of a house in Khan Younis where health officials said 11 people had been killed. “This is the bravery of the so-called Israel, they show their might and power against civilians, babies inside, kids inside, and elderly.”
As he spoke, rescuers at the house used their hands to try to free a girl buried up to her waist in debris.
Netanyahu said Israel would consider “tactical little pauses” in Gaza fighting to let hostages leave or aid enter, but again rejected calls for a ceasefire.
Asked who would be responsible for security in Gaza after Hamas was defeated, Netanyahu told US television’s ABC News: “I think Israel will for an indefinite period will have the overall security responsibility because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility.”
Israel’s military said it had captured a militant compound in the northern Gaza Strip and was set to attack fighters hiding in a warren of underground tunnels. It released footage showing troops using bulldozers to dig up earth and knock over walls.
Israeli Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Hecht told reporters Hamas fighters were “popping out” from tunnels to fire rocket propelled grenades at Israeli forces.
“So we’re really putting an effort into taking out these tunnels as we move in and close in on Gaza City,” he said.
Israeli aircraft struck several Hamas militants who had barricaded themselves in a building near the al-Quds Hospital inside Gaza City, the military said.
Both Israel and Hamas have rebuffed calls for a halt in fighting. Israel says hostages should be freed first. Hamas says it will not free them or stop fighting while Gaza is attacked.
‘MY KIDS … HAVE DONE NOTHING WRONG’
Unrelenting horror stories of civilian suffering on both sides have polarised world opinion over the past month.
In Shefayim, Israel, Avihai Brodutch described 31 days of agony after Hamas abducted his wife and three children from Kfar Aza, a kibbutz about three km (2 miles) from Gaza.
“My kids, they’re so young, and they’ve done nothing wrong to anybody,” he said of his 10-year-old daughter Ofri and sons Yuval, eight, and Uriah, four.
Since last week, hundreds of Gazans who hold foreign passports have been permitted to exit through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. But the overwhelming majority of Gazans are trapped inside the strip, and those who have been able to escape describe their torment at leaving loved-ones behind.
“It’s just a horror movie that keeps putting on repeat,” Suzan Beseiso, 31, a Palestinian-American who managed to leave Gaza for Egypt last week, told Reuters in Cairo. “No sleep. No food. No water. You keep evacuating from one place to another.”
Netanyahu said a general ceasefire would hamper his country’s war effort, but pauses to fighting for humanitarian reasons could continue to be considered based on circumstances.
US President Joe Biden discussed such pauses by phone on Monday with Netanyahu, reiterating support for Israel while emphasising it must protect civilians, the White House said.
Washington backs Israel’s assertion that Hamas would take advantage of a full ceasefire to regroup. But many countries say a ceasefire is needed at once to help Gazans in peril.
Gaza services are close to “breaking point” without fuel supplies, the UN humanitarian office said on Tuesday. Gaza’s interior ministry said on Tuesday all bakeries in northern Gaza are out of service due to Israeli attacks and lack of fuel.
There are fears that the month-old conflict could spread to other fronts, including the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the northern border with Lebanon, both areas that have seen a surge in unrest to the deadliest levels in many years.
In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday a total 163 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli forces there since October 7.