The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 people, the Hamas-run health ministry said Monday after nearly one month of bombardment by Israel whose offensive against Palestinian militants showed signs of intensifying.
Determined to destroy Hamas whose October 7 attack left 1,400 dead in Israel, most of them civilians, and saw over 240 hostages taken according to Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed no letup despite mounting calls for a ceasefire.
Hundreds of overnight strikes pushed the death toll in Gaza to 10,022, mostly women and children, a spokesman for the health ministry told a press conference.
Two paediatric hospitals and Gaza’s only psychiatric hospital were hit, the ministry said, after the director of another hospital in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza reported he had counted 58 dead.
“These are massacres! They destroyed three houses over the heads of their inhabitants — women and children,” one resident, Mahmud Meshmesh, told AFP.
“We have already taken 40 bodies out of the rubble,” he said as crowds prayed around corpses wrapped in white shrouds.
The Israeli military accuses Hamas of building tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and places of worship in Gaza to hide fighters, store arms and ammunition, and plan attacks — charges the militant group has denied.
Ground forces with tanks have flooded the northern half of the Gaza Strip and tightened an encirclement of Gaza City, effectively splitting the territory in two.
Israel’s ally the United States sent its top diplomat Antony Blinken on a whirlwind Middle East tour that wrapped up on Monday in Turkey, where again his host pressed for an Israeli ceasefire, which Washington has declined to endorse.
The heads of major United Nations agencies issued a joint statement also 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.
“It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now,” the statement said.
The Israeli army said on Monday it had pounded Gaza with “significant” strikes on 450 targets, having said last week it had already hit over 12,000. It also reported seizing a Hamas command post and killing a Hamas commander accused of helping organise the October 7 attacks and planning future incursions.
“We will take the fight to Hamas wherever they are — underground, above ground,” Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, referring to Hamas tunnels, and 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?’ –
Israeli troops and Hamas fighters have engaged in fierce house-to-house combat in densely populated north Gaza, where the UN says the war has sent some 1.5 million people fleeing to other parts of the territory.
Netanyahu, who has rejected any talk of a ceasefire until hostages are returned, said on Monday Israel was “fighting the battle of civilisation against barbarism”.
He vowed to minimise civilian casualties and accused Hamas of “doing everything in its power to keep them (civilians) in harm’s way”, according to an official readout following a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov.
Israel has air-dropped leaflets and sent text messages ordering Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to head south. A US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.
The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt reopened Monday to allow the evacuation of foreigners and dual nationals, the Hamas government said, ending a two-day closure prompted by a dispute over the passage of ambulances.
Six ambulances carrying wounded Gazans also arrived in Egypt on Monday as the evacuations resumed, a border official said.
Blinken on his regional tour — which took him to Israel, Jordan, the occupied West Bank, Cyprus, Iraq and Turkey — called for “humanitarian pauses” while rejecting Arab countries’ demands for a ceasefire.
After meeting his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan in Ankara on Monday, Blinken said Washington was working “very aggressively” to dramatically expand aid reaching trapped civilians in Gaza, but he did not provide details before boarding a flight to Japan.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan himself was travelling across his country’s remote northeast on Monday, apparently snubbing Blinken.
NATO member Turkey, which is allied to the Palestinians but also has ties with Israel, has said it is recalling its ambassador to Israel and breaking off contacts with Netanyahu.
– Jerusalem knife attack –
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 it started, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, a 20-year-old female Israeli border police officer died after a knife-wielding Palestinian assailant stabbed her in front of a police station, the force said.
“Border police forces neutralised the terrorist by shooting,” a statement 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”.
Overall, the army said more than 1,350 Palestinians had been arrested across the West Bank since October 7, with “over 850 of them affiliated with Hamas”.
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 asked about the reasons for her arrest, a security source forwarded an Instagram post, which has circulated widely 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.
Her mother, Narimane Tamimi, denied that she wrote the post and added that “when Ahed tries to open a social media account, it’s immediately blocked”.