Israel said Monday it had launched more than 300 strikes on the Gaza Strip within 24 hours, killing dozens according to the Hamas rulers of the besieged Palestinian territory.
More than two weeks into the war triggered by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,400, alarm has surged about the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
More than 4,650 have been killed in Gaza, around 40 percent of them children, said the Hamas-run health ministry. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed and more than one million people displaced.
About a dozen trucks carrying desperately needed aid — the third convoy in three days — arrived inside Gaza from Egypt on Monday through Rafah, Gaza’s only crossing not controlled by Israel.
The United States, which has brokered the entry of the aid convoys, has vowed a “continued flow” of relief goods into Gaza, where Israel has cut off most water as well as food, power and fuel.
Fighting raged unabated overnight, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed again that Israel would “erase Hamas” and as a full-scale ground invasion looms.
Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government media office said that “more than 60 were martyred in the raids” during the night — including 17 in a single strike that hit a house in northern Gaza — and at least 10 others were killed in new strikes on Monday morning.
The Israeli military said it had hit “over 320 military targets in the Gaza Strip” in the 24 hours up to Monday morning.
It said the targets “included tunnels containing Hamas terrorists, dozens of operational command centres” as well as “military compounds and observation posts” used by Islamic Jihad, another militant group.
Rafah resident Mohammed Abu Sabalah said he had returned home from the local mosque after dawn prayers Monday and that “a quarter of an hour later there was a bombing”.
“We couldn’t see anything because of the thick smoke,” he said, adding that “we thank God that we’ve emerged safe and sound” with “only a few windows and doors destroyed” in his house.
Israeli forces are massed near the Gaza border, and smaller units have already carried out limited incursions, targeting Hamas and hoping to rescue hostages, whose number Israel now estimates at 222.
In one such operation, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded, the army said, adding that the tank operation had aimed “to dismantle terror infrastructure… and locate missing persons and bodies”.
Tensions have been inflamed in the occupied West Bank, where 95 Palestinians have been killed in clashes involving Israeli security forces or settlers since fighting began in Gaza, according to the Ramallah-based health ministry.
Israel kept evacuating southern communities near Gaza.
Orit Cohen, 29, a native of Sderot, an Israeli town just near Gaza’s northern border, told AFP: “I came to pick up my mother who until then refused to leave the city. But the army is bombing right on the other side.
“I was afraid for her and I came to get her out of here.”
– Dire need in Gaza –
Hamas militants poured into southern Israel from Gaza on October 7, in the worst attack in the country’s 75-year history, shooting and stabbing mostly civilians and burning many bodies, according to Israeli officials.
The Israeli bombing campaign since then has killed more than 4,650 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including at least 1,873 children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.
Alarm has grown about the dire needs of the 2.4 million civilians trapped inside the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long coastal strip that was already blockaded and impoverished before the war.
Children killed in an Israeli air strike in the southern city of Khan Yunis were Monday laid to rest in a makeshift grave, while in Rafah men were filling plastic jerricans from portable water containers.
US President Joe Biden brokered the aid convoys with Egyptian and Israeli leaders last week — but the United Nations estimates Gaza needs about 100 trucks of relief goods every day.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Sunday’s delivery of food, water and medical supplies was “another small glimmer of hope for the millions of people in dire need of humanitarian aid.
“But they need more, much more.”
Israel has rejected the entry of fuel into Gaza, fearing Hamas could use it for weapons and explosives. This has sparked warnings that soon Gaza’s ambulances, hospital incubators and water desalination plants will stop functioning.
– Hezbollah warning –
Around the world, Israel’s friends and foes alike have warned against the Gaza war spilling over into a full-scale regional conflagration.
Israel’s arch foe Iran has repeatedly warned of an escalation, as have its allied armed groups, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has traded cross-border fire with Israel.
Netanyahu warned on Sunday that if Hezbollah were to get more deeply involved, it would be “the mistake of its life”.
“We will strike it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the significance for it and the state of Lebanon will be devastating,” he said.
Biden and several other Western leaders in a joint statement stressed the need “to prevent the conflict from spreading” and to “preserve stability in the Middle East”.
Israeli air strikes were reported against two airports in Syria, a mosque used by “terror operatives” in the West Bank city of Jenin and Hezbollah “military infrastructure” inside Lebanon.
Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria’s government are all backed by Iran, which opposes Israel’s existence and has warned the region could spiral “out of control”.
Washington said it would not hesitate to act in the event of any “escalation”, just hours after the Pentagon moved to step up military readiness in the region.
“If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don’t,” US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on ABC News.