Armored Israeli forces attacked Gaza’s key northern city from two directions on Monday and targeted the main road linking it to the south of the enclave, witnesses said, widening an offensive that led to more international appeals for Gaza civilians to be protected.
Israel’s military said it had struck more than 600 militant targets over the past few days as it expanded ground operations in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian civilians are in dire need of fuel, food and clean water as the war enters its fourth week.
Only a few dozen humanitarian aid trucks have reached the besieged enclave of 2.3 million people since the Israel-Hamas war erupted three weeks ago, and civil order has broken down with people storming U.N. warehouses in search of food.
That has put four U.N. aid distribution centers and a storage facility out of action, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Monday.
“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster. Health needs are soaring and our ability to meet those needs is rapidly declining,” World Health Organization regional emergencies chief Rick Brennan told Reuters, reiterating international calls for a ceasefire to enable a larger humanitarian operation.
Israel renewed warnings for civilians to move from the north of Gaza to the south as it began an advance late on Friday to pursue Hamas militants it says are hiding in a labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza City.
Many Palestinians have stayed put for fear of becoming homeless like previous generations, and over alarm about Israeli aerial strikes further south.
Fadi, who lives in the Jabalia refugee camp on Gaza City’s northern outskirts and declined to give his last name, said the area was now in mortal danger from Israel’s ground offensive with tanks rumbling on its fringes. But he vowed not to flee.
“No one in the entire neighbourhood has left. We are staying,” he told Reuters by phone. “Whether tanks or planes, there will not be another displacement (of Palestinians). That is our decision even if that will mean our martyrdom (death).”
Islamist militants said they had repelled an attempted thrust by Israeli tanks into Gaza City from the east and were fighting them along the border with Israel in north Gaza.
“Our duty today is fight and fight,” the Islamic Jihad militant group, fighting alongside Gaza’s ruling Hamas, said in a statement, adding that now was not the time for a ceasefire.
The Israeli military said it had killed four prominent Hamas operatives. “IDF troops killed dozens of terrorists who barricaded themselves in buildings and tunnels, and attempted to attack the troops,” it said in an update.
Neither side commented on the other’s reports.
Medical authorities in Gaza said on Monday that 8,306 people – including 3,457 minors – had been killed in Israel’s three-week-old air and ground onslaught.
Israel launched a “total siege” of Gaza after Hamas-led militants burst over the border and rampaged through nearby Israeli towns and kibbutzes on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people and taking 229 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.