- The latest developments:
- Bodies of children lying in the rain after the air strike on Rafah
CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – Israel on Wednesday reported its worst combat losses in more than a month after an ambush in Gaza City and faces increasing diplomatic isolation as the civilian death toll mounts and the humanitarian catastrophe deepens.
Fierce fighting broke out simultaneously in the north and south of the enclave, a day after the United Nations demanded an immediate ceasefire on humanitarian grounds. US President Joe Biden said that Israel’s “indiscriminate” bombing of civilians costs international support.
Warplanes again bombed parts of Gaza, and relief officials said that the arrival of rainy winter weather had worsened the conditions of hundreds of thousands of families sleeping in harsh conditions in temporary tents. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are homeless.
Israel launched its campaign to eliminate the Hamas movement that controls Gaza with global sympathy after its fighters stormed the border fence on October 7, killing 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians, and taking 240 hostage.
But since then, Israeli forces have besieged the Strip and destroyed much of it, with more than 18,000 people confirmed dead according to Palestinian health authorities, and several thousand more feared missing under the rubble or beyond the reach of ambulances.
In Rafah, at the southern end of the Strip, where hundreds of thousands of people had sought shelter, the bodies of a family killed in a night air strike lay in the rain in blood-stained white shrouds, including several young children. One of them, the size of a newborn, was wrapped in a pink blanket.
Ahmed Abu Rayash collected the bodies of his two nieces, Sama and Sarah, ages 5 and 7. As he was walking down the street carrying one of the girls, one of his relatives pulled the shroud and shouted: “These are children! Children! Are they being killed?” “Is there anyone but children? No! These are innocent! They killed them with their dirty hands.”
Since the collapse of the week-long truce at the beginning of December, Israeli forces have expanded their ground campaign from the north of the Gaza Strip to the south by storming the main southern city of Khan Yunis.
Meanwhile, fighting intensified amid the ruins of the north, where Israel had previously claimed its military objectives had been largely achieved.
Israel announced the killing of ten of its soldiers during the past 24 hours, including a colonel commanding a forward base and a lieutenant colonel commanding a regiment. This was the worst single-day loss since 15 people were killed on October 31.
The army said that most of the deaths occurred in the Shujaiya area of Gaza City in the north, where the forces were ambushed while trying to rescue another group of soldiers who attacked fighters in a building.
“Bring destruction and death”
Hamas said the incident showed that Israeli forces would never be able to subjugate Gaza: “The longer you stay there, the greater the bill of your deaths and losses, and you will emerge from it carrying the tail of disappointment and loss, God willing.”
In the north, there was also heavy fighting in the Jabalia area, where Gaza health officials say Israeli forces surrounded and stormed a hospital and detained and mistreated medical staff.
In the south, the Israeli forces that stormed Khan Yunis in recent days advanced to the city center. Residents said that fierce fighting took place there, but that no further attempts were made to advance during the past 24 hours.
He added: “The Israeli tanks did not move further than the city center. Abu Abdullah, a father of five who lives two kilometers away, told Reuters: “They are facing fierce resistance and we hear exchanges of gunfire and explosions as well.”
Abu Abdullah said that the Israelis brought bulldozers and destroyed the road near the house of Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, in Khan Yunis.
Hospitals in the north have largely stopped operating completely. In the south, they are overrun by the dead and wounded, carried by dozens throughout the day and night.
Dr. Chris Hook, a British doctor working with the charity Doctors Without Borders at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, told Reuters, “Doctors, myself included, step on the corpses of children to treat children who are going to die.”
International agencies say that the limited aid that reaches Gaza is distributed only in parts of Rafah close to the Egyptian border. Even there, the situation has become more extreme this week.
“Heavy rain and winds overnight. Absolutely terrifying for all these people living in temporary shelters,” Gemma Connell, who works in Rafah and heads the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Gaza team, told Reuters in a message.
Israel says it is encouraging increased aid to Gaza across the Egyptian border, and announces a daily four-hour cessation of operations near Rafah to help civilians reach it. The UN says cumbersome inspections and insecurity have slowed aid to a trickle.
United Nations vote
The UN General Assembly vote to demand a ceasefire had no legal force but was the strongest sign yet of the erosion of international support for Israel’s actions. Three-quarters of the 193 member states voted in favor of the resolution, and only eight countries joined the United States and Israel in voting against the resolution.
Before the vote, Biden said that Israel still enjoyed the support of “most countries in the world” in its war against Hamas.
He added during a donor event, “But they are starting to lose this support due to indiscriminate bombing.”
In the most public sign of division between US and Israeli leaders yet, Biden said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to change his hard-line government, and that Israel “ultimately cannot say no” to an independent Palestinian state, which the Palestinians strongly oppose. Right-wing members of the Israeli government.
(Reporting by Bassam Masoud in Khan Yunis, Gaza, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Maggie Fick in London, and the Reuters office.) Edited by Nick Macfie
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A senior correspondent with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.
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