UNITED STATES NEWS

Israeli airstrikes kill dozens more Palestinians across the Gaza Strip

Dec 19, 2023, 1:34 AM | Updated: 4:58 pm

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli army has raided and detained staff at two of the last functioning hospitals in Gaza’s north, where the defense minister said Tuesday that troops were working to completely clear out Hamas militants.

Israel bombarded towns across southern Gaza Tuesday with airstrikes, killing at least 45 Palestinians and pressing ahead with its offensive with renewed backing from the United States, despite rising international alarm. The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, warned the campaign in Gaza’s south will persist for months.

In a hospital in the southern town of Rafah, Mahmoud Zoarab bid farewell to his two children — a 2-year-old boy, and a girl born two weeks ago — killed in a predawn strike on their home.

Wounded in the strike, he winced as he peeled back the shrouds to look at their faces as his wife and mother stood by his bed.

“Just two weeks old. Her name hadn’t even been registered,” said the children’s grandmother, Suzan Zoarab. Addressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she cried, “Does he think that by killing these children he will achieve something? Have they succeeded now? Has he achieved what he wants?”

Defense Minister Gallant said Israeli forces were entering Hamas’ tunnel network in northern Gaza as part of a “final clearing” of militants from the region. The densely built urban north, including Gaza City, has seen ferocious fighting between troops and militants, with Palestinian health officials reporting dozens of people killed in bombardment in recent days.

Israeli troops have raided a series of hospitals and shelters in the north, detaining men in a search for militants and expelling others taking refuge there.

Gallant said that in southern Gaza, operations will take “months,” including the military’s assault on Khan Younis, the territory’s second largest city. “We will not stop until we reach our goals,” he said.

After meeting with Israeli officials Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged Israel to protect civilians but reiterated America’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas, saying he was “not here to dictate timelines or terms.”

Austin’s remarks signaled that the U.S. would continue shielding Israel from growing international calls for a cease-fire as the U.N. Security Council again delayed a vote — and would keep providing aid for one of the 21st century’s deadliest military campaigns.

STRIKES ACROSS GAZA

Suzan Zoarab said her family was asleep when their home was hit before dawn.

“We found the whole house had collapsed over us.” Twenty-seven people were killed in the strike, along with at least three others in a separate strike in Rafah, according to Associated Press journalists who saw the bodies arrive at two local hospitals early Tuesday.

Rafah, which is in the southern part of Gaza and where Israel has told Palestinians to seek shelter, has been repeatedly bombarded, often killing large numbers of civilians. Israel said Tuesday it had killed a prominent Hamas financier in an airstrike on Rafah, without specifying when it occurred.

In central Gaza, at least 15 people were killed in strikes overnight, according to hospital records. Among the dead were a mother and her four children, who were killed as they sat around a fire, according to an AP reporter who filmed the aftermath.

Fierce battles also raged in northern Gaza, which has been reduced to a wasteland seven weeks after Israeli tanks and troops stormed in. The military said Tuesday its forces took “operational control” of the urban refugee camp of Jabaliya. Israel has killed hundreds of Hamas militants there and detained another 500 suspected militants, according to a statement from division commander Brig. Gen. Itsik Cohen.

The claims could not be independently confirmed.

Footage online showed a scene of devastation after a strike that hit a local charity in Jabaliya, with several torn bodies near a donkey cart on a street filled with rubble and twisted metal. At least 27 people were killed in that strike and others in the district Tuesday, according to Munir al-Bursh, a senior Health Ministry official.

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Tuesday the death toll since the start of the war had risen to more than 19,600. It does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths.

Hamas has continued to put up stiff resistance and lob rockets at Israel. The militants said they fired a barrage toward Tel Aviv on Tuesday, and air raid sirens went off in central Israel. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

The war began after Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians, and abducted 240 others.

Israel’s military says 131 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive. Israel says it has killed some 7,000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames civilian deaths on Hamas, saying it uses them as human shields when it fights in residential areas.

HOSPITAL RAID

Israeli forces raided the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City overnight, according to the church that operates it, destroying a wall at its front entrance and detaining most of its staff.

The facility was the scene of an explosion early in the war that killed dozens of Palestinians, and which an Associated Press investigation later determined was likely caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.

Don Binder, a pastor at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, which runs the hospital, said the raid left just two doctors, four nurses and two janitors to tend to over 100 seriously wounded patients, with no running water or electricity.

Binder said an Israeli tank was parked on the rubble at the hospital’s entrance, blocking anyone from entering or leaving.

Israeli troops seized northern Gaza’s Al Awda hospital on Sunday after besieging it for 12 days, the international aid group Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday. The troops stripped, bound and interrogated all males over 16, including six of the group’s staff, it said. Most were sent back into the hospital, which the troops still hold, with dozens of patients inside but no essential supplies, it said.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military about the hospital raids.

Forces have raided other hospitals across northern Gaza, accusing Hamas of using them for military purposes. Hospital staff have denied the allegations and accused Israel of endangering critically ill and wounded civilians.

SECURITY COUNCIL AGAIN POSTPONES VOTE ON NEW TRUCE PROPOSAL

U.N. Security Council members continued intense negotiations on an Arab-sponsored resolution to spur desperately needed humanitarian aid deliveries to Gaza during some kind of a halt in the fighting. A vote on the resolution, first postponed from Monday, was pushed back again until Wednesday as talks continued to get the U.S. to abstain or vote “yes” on the resolution after it vetoed an earlier cease-fire call.

France, the United Kingdom and Germany — some of Israel’s closest allies — joined global calls for a cease-fire over the weekend. In Israel, protesters have called for negotiations with Hamas to facilitate the release of scores of hostages still held by the group.

CIA Director William Burns met in Warsaw with the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency and the prime minister of Qatar on Monday, the first known meeting of the three since the cease-fire and the release of some 100 hostages in a deal they helped broker.

But U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the talks were not “at a point where another deal is imminent.”

Hamas and other militants are still holding an estimated 129 captives.

Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will keep fighting until it ends Hamas rule in Gaza, crushes its military capabilities and frees all the hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack.

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This story has been updated to correct the name of Palestinian father to Mahmoud Zoarab, not Mohammed Zoghroub, and the family’s last name to Zoarab, not Zoghroub.

—-

Magdy and Jeffery reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed.

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.

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Israeli airstrikes kill dozens more Palestinians across the Gaza Strip