Israel says it has encircled Gaza City Israeli forces have surrounded Gaza City, the main city in the Gaza Strip, in their assault on Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. The Israeli military aims to destroy Hamas’s command structure, while the group continues to resist with hit-and-run attacks from underground tunnels. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that they are in the midst of the battle and have made progress in advancing towards Gaza City. Israeli troops have completed the encirclement of the city, which is the focal point of the Hamas organization. They are facing challenges such as mines and booby traps set by the militants.
In a televised speech on Thursday, Abu Ubaida, spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas, claimed that Israel’s death toll in Gaza was much higher than the military had announced. He warned, “Your soldiers will return in black bags.” Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters utilized tunnels to launch attacks on tanks and then retreated into the network, as seen in videos released by both groups. One video showed a Hamas fighter planting an explosive device on a tank in a Gaza field before firing an anti-tank missile from a tunnel.
Palestinian civilians are facing critical shortages of essential resources like food, fuel, clean water, and medicine. According to Juliette Touma, a spokesperson for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), water is being wielded as a weapon in the ongoing conflict.
The White House has indicated its interest in implementing a series of temporary pauses in the Israel-Hamas conflict. These pauses aim to facilitate the safe evacuation of people from Gaza and allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need. However, the U.S. government has reiterated its opposition to a full ceasefire. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has departed for the Middle East to discuss concrete measures to reduce harm to Gaza’s civilian population.
In his meetings in Israel and Jordan, Blinken stated that he would also address the future of Gaza and lay the groundwork for potential Palestinian statehood.
The recent conflict in the long-standing dispute began when Hamas militants breached the border on October 7. According to Israel, this resulted in the deaths of 1,400 people, primarily civilians, and the capture of more than 240 hostages, marking the deadliest day in its 75-year history.
Israel subsequently launched an extensive bombardment of the small Palestinian enclave with a population of 2.3 million, resulting in at least 9,061 casualties, as reported by Gaza health authorities.
In Geneva, a group of seven U.N. special rapporteurs, who are independent experts responsible for monitoring human rights, issued a statement calling for a ceasefire. They expressed concerns that Palestinians were facing a “grave risk of genocide.”
The Israeli mission to the U.N. in Geneva criticized these comments, describing them as “deplorable and deeply concerning” and attributing civilian casualties to Hamas. Israel maintains that it targets Hamas while accusing the group of intentionally hiding within densely populated areas.
The United Nations’ Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk, has declared that what he referred to as Israeli “blockades” are in violation of international law. Furthermore, his office issued a statement on Wednesday, asserting that the Israeli airstrikes on Gaza’s largest refugee camp earlier in the week may potentially constitute acts classified as war crimes.
In Washington, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Republican proposal on Thursday, aiming to allocate $14.3 billion in assistance to Israel. This decision was made despite objections from Democrats, who maintain that the proposal is unlikely to advance in the Senate. Additionally, there is a White House commitment to veto the measure.
The vote, with a tally of 226 in favor and 196 opposed, largely followed party lines, as most Republicans supported the bill, while most Democrats expressed their opposition.
President Joe Biden, a member of the Democratic Party, has called upon Congress to approve a more comprehensive emergency spending package totaling $106 billion. This package includes financial support for Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine, and humanitarian aid. In the Senate, Democratic leaders will pursue a bipartisan bill to address a wider range of priorities.
‘WE ARE NOT ANIMALS’
On Thursday, for the second consecutive day, the Rafah crossing connecting Gaza to Egypt was opened as part of a Qatari-mediated agreement. This arrangement is designed to facilitate the evacuation of certain individuals, including foreign passport holders, their dependents, and some injured Gazans, from the enclave.
Wael Abu Mehsen, a Palestinian border official, confirmed that 400 foreign citizens were scheduled to depart for Egypt via the Rafah crossing on Thursday, following the evacuation of around 320 individuals on the preceding day. Additionally, a number of critically injured Palestinians were set to traverse the border. In response, Israel had made a request for foreign countries to dispatch hospital ships to aid these injured individuals.
Expressing the urgency of the situation, Ghada el-Saka, an Egyptian waiting at the Rafah crossing to return home after visiting relatives, emphasized the human toll of the conflict, saying, “I want to pass. We are not animals.” She recounted a distressing incident in which a strike near her siblings’ house had forced her and her daughter to seek refuge in the streets, highlighting the life-altering impact of the violence in the region.
In Khan Younis, situated in the southern region of the Gaza Strip, a nine-year-old girl named Rafif Abu Ziyada reported suffering from stomach pains and headaches due to consuming contaminated water. She expressed the dire living conditions in the area, including a lack of cooking gas, clean water, and inadequate nutrition, leading to widespread health issues. The presence of litter on the streets and overall pollution further exacerbated their plight.
Moreover, more than a third of Gaza’s 35 hospitals remain non-operational, with some of them being repurposed as makeshift refugee shelters. Medical Aid for Palestinians, a humanitarian organization, described the situation as nothing short of a catastrophe. Hospitals are overcrowded, and many healthcare workers are grappling with their own personal losses and homelessness, making the situation even more challenging.