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JERUSALEM — Israeli air strikes on residential blocks in south Gaza killed at least 32 Palestinians on Saturday, November 18, medics said, after Israel again warned civilians to relocate as it turns to attacking Hamas in the enclave’s south after subduing the north.
Such an offensive could compel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled south from the Israeli storming of Gaza City to move again, along with residents of Khan Younis, a city of more than 400,000, compounding a dire humanitarian crisis.
Israel vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls the Gaza Strip after its October 7 rampage into Israel in which its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged 240 hostages into the enclave, according to Israeli tallies.
Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza City – the enclave’s urban core – to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the northern half of the narrow strip and displaced around two-thirds of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians. Many of those who have fled fear their homelessness could become permanent.
Gaza health authorities raised their death toll on Friday to more than 12,000, including 5,000 children. The United Nations deems those figures credible, though they are now updated infrequently due to the difficulty of collecting information.
Overnight on Saturday, 26 Palestinians were killed and 23 wounded by an air strike on two apartments in a multi-storey block in a busy residential district of Khan Younis, according to health officials.
Eyad Al-Zaeem told Reuters he lost his aunt, her children and her grandchildren in the air strike in Khan Younis, and that all had evacuated from north Gaza on Israeli army orders only to die where the army told them they could be safe.
“All of them were martyred. They had nothing to do with the (Hamas) resistance,” said Zaeem, standing outside the morgue at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis where 26 bodies were laid out before they were to be carried by loved ones to burials.
A few kilometers (miles) to the north, six Palestinians were killed when a house was bombed from the air in the town of Deir Al-Balah, according to health authorities.
An Israeli military statement on Saturday made no mention of air strike locations. It said only that over the past 24 hours its air force hit dozens of Gaza targets including militants, command centres, rocket launch sites and munitions factories.
A senior aide to Israel’s prime minister urged Palestinian civilians on Friday to relocate away from Khan Younis as Israeli forces would have to advance into the city to oust Hamas fighters dug into underground tunnels and bunkers – suggesting an Israeli ground offensive into the south was imminent.
The pending Israeli advance into south Gaza may prove more complicated and deadlier than in the north, however, with the civilian population swelled by some 400,000 evacuees and fiercer fighting expected with militants dug into the Khan Younis region, a powerbase of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, according to a senior Israeli source and two ex-top officials.
Evacuations from Al Shifa hospital
Palestinian officials and Israel’s military gave conflicting accounts on Saturday about evacuations of medical staff, patients and displaced people from north Gaza’s largest hospital, taken over by Israeli forces earlier in the week.
Much to international alarm, Israel made Al Shifa a primary target of its ground advance with its military saying it sits above a vast Hamas bunker. Hamas and Al Shifa staff deny this, saying Israel has proven no such thing as it continues to comb the premises and excavate areas in search of evidence.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said all except about 125 of an estimated 1,000-1,500 war-wounded or sick patients, as well as 34 newborn babies along with just five doctors and some nurses, had been forced to leave Al Shifa by the Israeli military.
“The situation at (Al Shifa) is very catastrophic. It is now without fuel, without food, without medicine, without food, without water – this means killing them (patients),” she told a press conference in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Palestinian health officials in Gaza said evacuees from Al Shifa were facing treks along dangerous, bombed-out roads littered with dead bodies.
The Israeli army denied the Palestinian accounts. In a statement, it said its forces at Al Shifa had acceded to a request from the hospital’s director to “expand and assist” in further voluntary evacuations via a “secure route.” Doctors and medics could stay to support patients too weak to be evacuated, it said.
It released a video on Friday that it said showed a tunnel entrance in an outdoor area of the hospital. A bulldozer appeared in the background.
“We are seeing the Hamas presence in all of (Gaza) hospitals. This is a clear-cut presence,” Israeli Major General Yaron Finkelman said in a video from Al Shifa.
Hamas denies using hospitals for military purposes.
With the war entering its seventh week, there was no sign of a let-up, despite international calls for a ceasefire or at least “humanitarian pauses” to tackle critical shortages of food, medicines, drinking water and fuel afflicting civilians.
Amid warnings that its Gaza siege raised the immediate risk of starvation, Israel on Friday appeared to bow to international pressure in agreeing to allow fuel trucks in and promising “no limitation” on aid requested by the United Nations.
But the UN humanitarian agency OCHA said no aid entered Gaza for a third day running on Friday and distributions had come to a virtual halt due to a lack of security guarantees and fuel. It said raw sewage has begun flowing in the streets in some areas as a result of a lack of fuel to run infrastructure.
Without a doubling of fuel shipments soon, large areas of Gaza would be flooded with sewage and 70% of solid waste could not be removed, posing major health hazards, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.
Violence has also beset Israel’s northern border where it has been exchanging fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants, and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, stoking fears the Gaza war could kindle a broader Middle East conflict. — Rappler.com