Israeli forces indicated an expansion of their ground offensive by advancing into central Gaza on Friday, coinciding with the anticipated UN Security Council vote on a resolution aimed at boosting humanitarian aid to prevent the looming famine threat.
As hopes faded for an imminent breakthrough in talks this week in Egypt aimed at getting warring Israel and Hamas to agree a new truce, airstrikes, artillery bombardments and fighting were reported across the Palestinian enclave.
Israel’s military on Friday ordered residents of Al-Bureij, in central Gaza, to move south immediately, indicating a new focus of the ground assault that has already devastated the north of the strip and made a series of incursions in the south.
Israel’s government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to eradicate Hamas, the group that runs Gaza, after its fighters launched a cross-border raid on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
But the soaring death toll during the Israeli military campaign of retaliation has drawn increasing international criticism, even from staunch ally the United States.
In its latest update on casualties, Gaza’s health ministry said 20,057 Palestinians had been killed and 53,320 wounded in Israeli strikes since October 7.
The Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but blamed Iran-backed Hamas for operating in densely populated areas or using civilians as human shields, an allegation the group denies.
Israel says 140 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched its ground incursion into Gaza on October 20.
Strikes, fighting reported across Gaza
In the latest accounts of fighting on Friday, residents reported Israeli tank shelling of eastern areas of Al-Bureij, the subject of the latest military evacuation order.
Israeli forces have previously engaged with Hamas gunmen on the edges of Al-Bureij but have yet to thrust deeper into the built-up area, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.
Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported heavy shelling and airstrikes on Jabalia al-Balad and Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, and that Israeli vehicles were trying to advance from the western side of Jabalia amid the sound of gunfire.
Airstrikes were also reported in Khan Younis and Rafah, in the south.
The Israeli military said in a statement its air force destroyed a long-range missile launch site in Juhor ad-Dik, central Gaza, from which, it said, “recent launches into Israeli territory were carried out” – a possible reference to an attack on Tel Aviv on Thursday.
UN and Cairo talks
Negotiations had continued on Thursday to try to avoid a US veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution, drafted by the United Arab Emirates, that would demand that Israel and Hamas allow “the use of all land, sea and air routes to and throughout the entire Gaza” for humanitarian aid deliveries. On Thursday night in New York, after weeks of talks and a vote delayed for days, the vote by the Security Council was delayed again until Friday.
A November 24-December 1 humanitarian pause helped to increase aid deliveries to Gaza. A report by a UN-backed body said the entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. The risk of famine is increasing each day, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification said.
The pause led to the release of more than 100 hostages held by Hamas since October 7 and in exchange, 240 Palestinians were freed from Israeli jails.
But in a statement on Thursday that dampened hopes of a breakthrough, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller group also holding hostages in Gaza, rejected any deals about exchanges of hostages and Palestinian prisoners “except after a full cessation of aggression” by Israel.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was in Cairo for a second day of negotiations, however, which ended late on Thursday. While mediating countries including Egypt and Qatar have previously met separately with Israel, Hamas and other groups, there were no details on who might be engaged with any Israeli party.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said negotiations on a hostage release were continuing but declined to provide details.