- The latest developments:
- Gazans say Israeli forces moved a little closer to Al-Shifa Hospital, where Israel believes Hamas has a command center
- Israel opens a corridor for residents to exit Gaza City for the fifth day
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces clashed with Hamas activists across buildings bombed by shells in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, as the plight of civilians in the besieged Palestinian enclave worsened.
Gazans said Israeli forces were approaching Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest health facility in Gaza, where Israel believes Hamas has a command center. Thousands of Palestinians have taken refuge there to escape the constant Israeli bombing.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a ceasefire and said that both sides committed war crimes during the month of fighting over the enclave.
In Paris, officials from about 80 countries and organizations are meeting to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza and find ways to help wounded civilians escape the siege.
Residents in Gaza City, an activist stronghold in the northern Hamas-controlled Strip, said that Israeli tanks were stationed around the city. Both sides reported inflicting heavy casualties on each other in violent street battles.
Israel launched its attack on Gaza in response to a cross-border raid launched by Hamas into southern Israel on October 7, during which gunmen killed 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and took about 240 hostage, according to the Israeli count. This was the worst day of bloodshed in Israel’s 75-year history.
Palestinian officials said 10,569 Gazans had been killed as of Wednesday, about 40% of them children, as a humanitarian crisis sweeps the Strip, with basic supplies running out and buildings demolished due to relentless Israeli bombing.
Israel, which has pledged to eliminate Hamas, says that 33 of its soldiers were killed in its ground operation as it advanced into the heart of Gaza City.
Israeli forces have secured a Hamas military stronghold called Compound 17 in Jabalia in northern Gaza after ten hours of fighting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists above and below ground, the Israeli army said on Wednesday.
She added that the forces killed dozens of militants, confiscated weapons, uncovered tunnel openings, and discovered a Hamas weapons manufacturing site in a residential building in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.
Israeli military footage showed soldiers walking through the rubble inside a building whose walls had been blown up, finding weapons manufacturing equipment, instruction manuals, and a tunnel well equipped with a cooling system. Nearby was a little girl’s bedroom with pink walls, pink wardrobes and three small beds.
The armed wing of the Hamas movement said it killed more Israeli soldiers than the army announced, and destroyed dozens of tanks, bulldozers and other vehicles. It published footage of fighters firing anti-tank missiles and recording direct hits on vehicles.
There’s nowhere to run to
Thousands of Palestinians took refuge in Al-Shifa Hospital inside Gaza City, despite Israeli orders to evacuate the area it besieges. They are sheltering in tents on the hospital grounds and say they have nowhere else to go.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the Israeli army once again asked residents of the north to move south, opening a four-hour corridor for the fifth day in a row. She added that about 50,000 people left the area on Wednesday.
She added that clashes and shelling around the main road continued, putting evacuees at risk. She added that the bodies were lying along the road while most of the evacuees were moving on foot after the Israeli army ordered them to leave their vehicles at the southern end of Gaza City.
Huge numbers of displaced people from among Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are crowded into schools, hospitals and other sites in the south.
Although the fighting is concentrated in the north, southern areas are also under regular attacks. Witnesses said that residents of Khan Yunis, the largest city in the southern Gaza Strip, continued to search among the rubble and debris of a building destroyed by an Israeli air strike, hoping to find survivors on Thursday morning.
“As deaths and infections continue to rise in Gaza due to intensified hostilities, severe overcrowding and disruption of health, water and sanitation systems pose an additional risk: the rapid spread of infectious diseases,” the World Health Organization said.
On Wednesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called for an immediate ceasefire, which Israel and its main ally, the United States, have consistently rejected as being in favor of Hamas.
“The atrocities committed by Palestinian armed groups on October 7 were heinous and were war crimes – as was the continued hostage-taking,” Turk said at the Rafah crossing in Egypt on the border with Gaza.
He added, “The collective punishment practiced by Israel against Palestinian civilians is also a war crime, as is the illegal forced eviction of civilians.”
A conference in Paris on Thursday, attended by Arab countries, Western powers, members of the G20 and non-governmental organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, will discuss measures needed to alleviate suffering in Gaza, but expectations are low without a halt in the fighting.
Among the options to be discussed is the establishment of a sea corridor, potentially using sea lanes to ship humanitarian aid to Gaza or evacuate the wounded.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who transited the region on a diplomatic mission, on Wednesday outlined Washington’s expectations for Gaza when the conflict ends. He rejected Israeli statements that it would be responsible for security in Gaza indefinitely.
Blinken said in a press conference in Tokyo, “There should be no reoccupation of Gaza after the end of the conflict. No attempt to blockade or siege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza.”
Blinken said that “some transition period” may be needed at the end of the conflict, but that post-crisis Gaza should “include Palestinian-led governance and a unified Gaza with the West Bank under the leadership of the Palestinian Authority.”
The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says the Gaza Strip, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, is an integral part of what it envisions for a future Palestinian state.
Israeli officials have said they do not intend to occupy Gaza after the war, but have not yet explained how they would ensure security. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Mittal Angel, Emily Rose and Mayan Lobel in Jerusalem, Rami Amichai in Tel Aviv, and Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and other Reuters bureaus; Edited by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff
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