Israel, Hamas Engage In Fierce Battles In Gaza’s Biggest Cities


Israel attacked Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s biggest cities on Thursday, leaving 350 people dead and thousands of Palestinian civilians searching for shelter to escape the ravages of the war. 

Many displaced Gazans crammed into Rafah on the southern border with Egypt, where Israeli leaflets urged Palestinians to flee, saying they would be safe. But the Hamas-controlled health ministry reported at least 37 deaths in overnight Israeli air attacks. 

The Israeli military Thursday accused militants of firing rockets from areas near Rafah near the humanitarian zone. 

United Nations officials said there are no safe places in Gaza. More than 85% of the territory’s population of more than 2 million people has already fled their homes or shelters, sometimes more than once. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used a rarely exercised power to warn the Security Council of an impending “humanitarian catastrophe” in the narrow enclave along the Mediterranean Sea and urged members to demand a cease-fire. 

The United States, Israel’s chief supporter, has repeatedly called on the Jewish state to limit civilian deaths, saying too many Palestinians were killed when it destroyed much of Gaza City and the north. But the U.S. has said a blanket cease-fire would benefit Hamas and is likely to block any U.N. effort to halt the fighting. 

A week-long cease-fire that ended December 1 led to the release of nearly 100 hostages being held by Hamas, although the militants are believed to still hold about 140 more. 

No negotiations are underway for another cessation in fighting. 

‘It is only a matter of time’

Battles took place in Gaza City, in the northern part of the enclave where Israel focused the initial stage of its air and ground campaign to eliminate Hamas, as well as in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, the location of the latest expansion of the war. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces are closing in on the location of Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar in Khan Younis, and that “it is only a matter of time until we find him.” 

The fighting has pushed civilians farther and farther south, disrupting U.N. humanitarian operations and prompting repeated warnings of increasingly dire circumstances. 

The United Nations said tens of thousands of people have arrived in recent days in Rafah, the only section of Gaza that has received limited humanitarian aid distributions this week due to the escalating violence farther north, the U.N. said. 

‘Potentially irreversible implications’

The U.N.’s Guterres said the worsening situation for civilians would have “potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region.” 

“Amid constant bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces, and without shelter or the essentials to survive, I expect public order to completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions, rendering even limited humanitarian assistance impossible,” Guterres said. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized the U.N. chief’s move, saying a Guterres call for a cease-fire would support Hamas. 

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy told reporters that Israel wants the war to end, but only “in a way that ensures that Hamas can never attack our people again.” 

Israel has accused Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, of embedding itself in and underneath hospitals and other civilian areas and of encouraging civilians to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate ahead of airstrikes, in effect using them as human shields — an accusation Hamas has denied. 

More than 17,000 Palestinians dead, says ministry

Israel began its military campaign to end Hamas’ rule of Gaza after Hamas fighters crossed into southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking the hostages. 

In its military offensive, Israel has killed more than 17,000 people in Gaza, 70% of them women and children, according to the health ministry.


The VOA is the Voice of America

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