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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

May 17, 2024 at 7:58 pm

Smoke rises and billows above settlements after Israeli attack on east of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on April 15, 2024. [Mahmoud Issa – Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalya in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south, fighters attacked tanks massing around Rafah, Reuters reports.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalya, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world

Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalya, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces had cleared Jabalya months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on 7 October, but said last week it was returning to prevent the  group re-grouping there.

READ: Rafah Hospital braces for casualty influx as Israel readies Gaza push

At the southern end of Gaza, thick smoke rose over Rafah, bordering Egypt, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the only places of refuge left.

People are terrified and they’re trying to get away

Jens Laerke, the UN humanitarian office spokesperson said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast, but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks had started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier built off the coast, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The United Nations said it was finalising plans to distribute the aid, while reiterating that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson, Farhan Haq, said.

Jabalya resident, Rajab, a father-of-four, said food aid was not the answer: “We want this war to end and then we can manage our lives on our own,” he said.

Humanitarian fears 

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said troops had killed more than 60 militants in recent days and located a weapons warehouse close to a shelter complex in what it described as a “divisional-level offensive” in Jabalya.

A divisional operation would typically involve multiple brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“Even now, the soldiers are exchanging fire with terrorist cells in the area,” the IDF said. “The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure.”

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s Health Ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and the threat of disease.

Doctors say they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anaesthetics or painkillers as the medical system in the Territory has virtually collapsed.

READ: Aid trucks begin moving ashore via Gaza pier, US says

Israel says it must destroy Hamas for its own safety after the deaths of 1,200 people on 7 October, and to free the 128 hostages still held out of 253 abducted by the group, according to its tallies.

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.

To achieve that, it says it must capture Rafah, where around half of the Territory’s 2.3 million people had sought shelter from fighting further north.

Israel said, on Friday, that its forces had rescued the bodies of three hostages from Gaza, without saying where they were found.

“Shani Louk, Amit Buskila and Yitzhak Gelernter were murdered by Hamas while escaping the Nova music festival on 7 October and their bodies were taken into Gaza,” chief military spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, told a briefing.

‘Tragic war’ 

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were firing anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, south-east and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on 6 May. Many have crowded into Deir Al-Balah, a city up the coast that is the only other one in Gaza yet to be assaulted by Israeli forces.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official, Gilad Noam, defended the operation.

Noam said Israel was fighting a war of self-defence and that the military operation in Rafah was not aimed at civilians but at dismantling the last Hamas stronghold.

“There is a tragic war going on, but there is no genocide” in Gaza, Noam said.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.

READ: Spain Premier says ‘Israel in a weaker position due to its response in Gaza’