GAZA STRIP (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) – Israeli forces pushed on with intense strikes targeting Palestinian militants in Gaza on Monday as the war neared one month and the Hamas-run health ministry's death toll approached 10,000 inside the besieged territory.
Determined to destroy Hamas whose October 7 attack left 1,400 dead in Israel and saw over 240 hostages taken, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed no letup despite mounting international calls for a ceasefire.
Ground forces have flooded the northern half of the Gaza Strip and tightened an encirclement of Gaza City even as hundreds of thousands of civilians remain there despite Israeli evacuation orders.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Monday more than 200 people had died in “overnight massacres” — a day after reporting a total death toll of more than 9,770, mostly women and children.
Israel’s ally the United States has sent its top diplomat Antony Blinken on a whirlwind Middle East tour that has been marked by strong condemnation of Israel, including on his latest stop Turkey.
The heads of major United Nations agencies issued a joint statement calling for a ceasefire inside the territory of 2.4 million people where an Israeli siege has cut off most water, food and fuel supplies.
“For almost a month, the world has been watching the unfolding situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in shock and horror at the spiralling numbers of lives lost and torn apart,” said the statement released Sunday.
“We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now.”
Israel’s army said Monday it had pounded Gaza with “significant” new strikes, having earlier said it had already hit over 12,000 targets.
“We will take the fight to Hamas wherever they are — underground, above ground,” Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, repeating calls for civilians to leave the urban war zone.
“We will be able to dismantle Hamas, stronghold after stronghold, battalion after battalion, until we achieve the ultimate goal, which is to rid the Gaza Strip — the entire Gaza Strip — of Hamas.”
– ‘Are there any survivors?’ –
The Hamas-run health ministry said on Sunday that 45 people were killed in Israeli strikes on a refugee camp in central Gaza, leaving people searching through the rubble.
“Are there any survivors?” shouted Said al-Najma, as he tried to shift the blocks of concrete strewn across the road in the camp.
“They brought down an entire street on the heads of women and children without any notice.”
Israeli troops and Hamas fighters have engaged in house-to-house combat in densely populated Gaza, where the war has sent 1.5 million people fleeing to other parts of the territory.
Netanyahu has remained firm on his position, vowing on Sunday that “there won’t be a ceasefire until the hostages are returned”.
Shortly before the latest barrage of strikes, internet and telephone lines were cut, the army said.
Israel has distributed leaflets and sent text messages ordering Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to head south, but a US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.
Conricus accused Hamas of building tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and places of worship in Gaza to hide fighters, plan attacks and store ammunition — charges the militant group has denied.
– Blinken in Turkey –
Blinken on his regional tour — which took him to the occupied West Bank, Cyprus and Iraq on Sunday — has called for “humanitarian pauses” while rejecting Arab countries’ demands for a ceasefire.
He met his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan in Ankara on Monday.
Ahead of Blinken’s arrival in NATO member Turkey, which is allied to the Palestinians but also has ties with Israel, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse hundreds of protesters who marched on an air base housing US forces in Turkey’s southeast.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself was travelling across his country’s remote northeast on Monday, apparently snubbing Blinken.
Turkey has said it is recalling its ambassador to Israel and breaking off contacts with Netanyahu.
Meeting with Blinken in the West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian Authority president Mahmud Abbas denounced “the genocide and destruction suffered by our Palestinian people in Gaza at the hands of Israel’s war machine”.
In Iran, the arch foe of Israel and the United States, President Ebrahim Raisi on Monday charged that US President Joe Biden’s administration was “encouraging” Israel to “kill and commit cruel acts” against Palestinians.
– Jerusalem knife attack –
Deepening the desperation in the crowded territory, the sole border crossing into Gaza from Egypt was closed Sunday for a second day.
Hamas suspended the evacuations of foreign passport holders after saying Israel had refused to allow some wounded Palestinians to be evacuated.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirmed the closure, saying more than 1,100 people had been allowed out in the two previous days.
The war has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank, where more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces and settlers since the start of the war, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, a female Israeli soldier was “seriously” wounded on Monday in a knife attack before “border police forces neutralised the terrorist by shooting”, police said.
The Israeli military said Monday it had arrested Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, 22, in a raid in her West Bank town of Nabi Salih on suspicion of “inciting violence and terrorist activities”.
Tamimi became prominent at age 14 when she was filmed biting an Israeli soldier to prevent him from arresting her younger brother, and for later slapping another Israeli soldier.
A large portrait of her was painted on the Israeli separation wall with the West Bank.
When AFP inquired about the reasons for her arrest, a security source forwarded an Instagram post, which has circulated widely on social media and is attributed to the young activist.
According to the post, written in Arabic and Hebrew, she called for the massacre of Israelis in explicitly violent terms, referring to Hitler.