| 21 February 2024, Wednesday |

Israel Assaults Southern Gaza as Hunger Tightens Grip

Israeli tanks and warplanes struck at southern Gaza on Tuesday, while the United Nations said aid supplies to desperate Palestinians had largely dried up because of the intensity of fighting in the Israel-Hamas war, now in its third month.

In Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s main city which Israel troops stormed last week, residents said tank shelling was now focused on the city center. One said tanks were operating on Tuesday morning in the street where the house of Yahya Al-Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, is located.

At the United Nations, the 193-member UN General Assembly was preparing to vote on a resolution calling for a ceasefire. Diplomats said it was expected to pass. The United States vetoed a similar call in the 15-member Security Council last week.

In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that following an “intensive dialogue” with US President Joe Biden, Israel had received full backing for its ground incursion into Gaza and blocking the international pressure to stop the war.

Washington has backed Israel’s position that a ceasefire would only benefit Hamas, although it has also called on its ally to do more to limit harm to civilians.

Israel’s assault on Gaza to root out Hamas has killed at least 18,205 Palestinians and wounded nearly 50,000 since Oct. 7, according to the Gaza health ministry. Many more dead are uncounted under the rubble or beyond the reach of ambulances.

An elderly Palestinian, Tawfik Abu Breika, said his residential block in Khan Younis was hit without warning by an Israeli air strike on Tuesday that had brought down several buildings and caused casualties.

“The world’s conscience is dead, no humanity or any kind of morals,” Breika told Reuters as neighbors sifted through rubble. “This is the third month that we are facing death and destruction … This is ethnic cleansing, complete destruction of the Gaza Strip to displace the whole population.”

Further south in 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.

Gazans were battling hunger and thirst to survive, resident Mohammed Obaid said as he inspected debris in Rafah.

“There’s no electricity, no fuel, no water, no medicine.”

Rocket fire

Israel mounted the assault on Gaza in response to a cross-border raid by Hamas fighters in which they killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage in southern Israel on Oct. 7. More than 100 hostages were freed during the truce in November.

One hundred and five Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the ground invasion began in late October.

Israel’s military said that over the past day it hit several posts that were used to fire rockets at its territory, raided a Hamas compound where it found some 250 rockets among other weapons, and struck a weapon production factory.

An Israeli ground assault that had been confined to the north has expanded to the southern half of the Gaza Strip since a week-long truce collapsed at the start of December.

Residents and aid agencies say that means no place is now safe in a territory where bombing has already rendered the vast majority of people homeless and nearly all areas entirely cut off from food, medicine and fuel.

Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said Israeli forces had raided Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza on Tuesday and detained the hospital director, Dr. Ahmed Al-Kahlout, along with all medical staff, including female teams.

They were being interrogated under threat within the emergency department, he said. Israel’s military did not reply to a request for comment on the incident.

An air strike on a house in Rafah killed several people and another on a building near the center in Khan Younis killed one Palestinian, medics said.

Hunger is worsening, with the UN World Food Program 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”.

New aid screening system

UN officials say at least 1.9 million people – 85% of Gaza’s population – are now displaced. Some of those sheltering in Rafah have erected tents of wood and nylon in open areas. Some are sleeping in the 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. They are now limited to the Rafah crossing from Egypt. Egyptian security sources said inspections would begin on Tuesday under a new deal between Israel, Egypt and the United States.

The UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) said Israel had imposed a near-total siege on Gaza “inflicting collective punishment on over 2 million people, half of whom are children”.

The Palestinian foreign minister accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war, a charge an Israeli official rejected as “obscene”.

Netanyahu said that in his talks with Biden, there was disagreement about the plan for Gaza after Hamas was defeated but he hoped to reach agreement on that as well.

“After the great sacrifice of our civilians and our soldiers, I will not allow the entry into Gaza of those who … support terrorism and finance terrorism,” he said.

Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy said the UN General Assembly vote on Tuesday would be a vote “to keep the Hamas terror regime in power and shield it from the consequences of 10/7”.


  • Asharq Al-Awsat