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Despair in Gaza as fighting intensifies despite Israel promise to scale back war

January 10, 2024 at 6:38 pm

Residents carry an injured Palestinian man after rescuing him under the rubble during the search and rescue operation around the rubble of the building demolished after Israeli attacks in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on January 10, 2024 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli strikes in southern and central Gaza intensified on Wednesday despite a pledge by Israel that it would pull out some troops and shift to a more targeted campaign, and pleading from its ally, Washington, to reduce civilian casualties, Reuters reports.

In the latest sign of the three-month-old war spreading, US and British warships in the Red Sea fended off the biggest attack yet from Yemen’s Houthi Movement, which says it is acting to support Gaza. Washington and London said they shot down 21 drones and missiles aimed at shipping lanes. No one was hurt.

Israel had said this week it was planning to begin drawing down troops, at least from the northern part of Gaza, after weeks of US pressure to scale down its operations and shift to what Washington says should be a more targeted campaign.

But the fighting appears to be as intense as ever, especially in the southern and central areas where Israeli forces launched ground advances last month.

The World Health Organisation cancelled a planned medical aid mission to Gaza due to security concerns, the sixth such cancellation in two weeks.

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“Intense bombardment, restrictions on movement, fuel shortage and interrupted communications make it impossible for WHO and our partners to reach those in need,” Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a virtual press conference.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said four of its staffers were killed when their ambulance was hit by an Israeli strike on the main road near Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip.

Israel has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza since launching its campaign to eradicate the Hamas group that runs the enclave, after Hamas fighters killed 1,200 Israelis and captured 240 hostages in a rampage on 7 October.

However, since then, it has been revealed by Haaretz that helicopters and tanks of the Israeli army had, in fact, killed many of the 1,139 soldiers and civilians claimed by Israel to have been killed by the Palestinian Resistance.

Gaza’s health authorities have estimated that about 40 per cent of those killed were aged under 18.

Seven-year-old Laila Al-Sultan and her brother Khaled, 4, now live in a tent shanty town in southern Gaza after their family home was destroyed in an air strike that killed their father.

“The house collapsed on us and Daddy went to heaven and he is very happy,” said Khaled, bouncing up and down on Laila’s lap as they sat.

Houthi warning 

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on his fourth trip to the region since the war began, went to Ramallah on Wednesday and met Palestinian leaders, including Palestinian Authority (PA) President, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank and accepts Israel’s right to exist, lost control of Gaza in 2007 to Hamas.

The State Department said Blinken expressed support for a Palestinian State, discussed efforts to protect and aid civilians in Gaza and encouraged “administrative reforms” of the PA. The PA said Abbas told Blinken no Palestinians should be displaced from Gaza or the West Bank.

Blinken has also met Israeli leaders and visited nearby Arab states in search of a future settlement for the Gaza Strip and its 2.3 million residents.

Washington wants Israel to give the Ramallah-based PA a future role in governing Gaza; Israel, which says it wants control of Gaza’s security indefinitely, is reluctant.

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Washington fears that the war could spread violence across the region, with armed groups backed by Israel’s arch-enemy, Iran, launching solidarity attacks in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The Houthis, who control most of Yemen, have been attacking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes at the mouth of the Red Sea, forcing Washington to send warships for protection.

A Houthi military spokesman said the group fired a large number of missiles and drones at a US ship that was providing support to Israel, calling it a “preliminary response” to a New Year’s Eve incident, when US helicopters sank three boats carrying Houthi fighters who tried to board a commercial vessel.

Speaking in Bahrain on the next leg of his trip, Blinken said there would be consequences for continued attacks on commercial shipping.

“We’ve also repeatedly tried to make clear to Iran, as other countries have, as well, that the support that they’re providing to the Houthis, including for these actions, needs to stop,” he told reporters.

No let-up 

Despite a public assertion by Israel since the New Year that it is scaling back the war, Gaza residents say they have seen no let-up. Nearly the entire population has been driven from their homes at least once, many displaced several times as Israeli forces advance.

In Rafah, on the southern edge of the enclave, relatives wept by the bodies of 15 members of the Nofal family laid out at a hospital morgue after their home was obliterated by an Israeli air strike overnight.

Most of the white shrouds were tiny, with children inside.

Um Ahmed, a mother-of-five from Gaza City now sheltering in a tent in Rafah, said Gazans had hoped Blinken’s visit meant they would be allowed to return to their homes.

“It is like words written in butter, it soon disappeared with the rise of the sun. That was the words of Blinken, fake,” she said.

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