© Reuters. Plumes of smoke rise during Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, October 29, 2023. REUTERS/Yasser Qudih
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Henriette Chacar
GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Armoured Israeli forces attacked the Gaza Strip’s main city from two directions on Monday and targeted the main road linking it to the south of Gaza, witnesses said, drawing more international appeals for Palestinian civilians to be protected.
Israel said its forces freed a soldier from Hamas captivity, one of 239 hostages Israel says were captured on Oct. 7 by Hamas gunmen from Gaza who rampaged through southern Israeli communities, killing over 1,400 people.
It identified her as Ori Megidish and said she had since undergone medical checks and is “doing well,” the military said. It gave no details on the circumstances of her release.
Israel’s military said it had struck more than 600 militant targets over the past few days as it expanded ground operations in the territory, where Palestinian civilians are in dire need of fuel, food and clean water as the war enters its fourth week.
Palestinian medical authorities in Gaza said on Monday that 8,306 people – including 3,457 minors – had been killed in Israel’s three-week-old air and ground onslaught.
Significantly fewer humanitarian aid trucks have reached the besieged enclave than are required, say U.N. Officials, and civil order has broken down with people storming U.N. warehouses in search of food.
That has put four U.N. aid distribution centres and a storage facility out of action, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Monday.
“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster. Health needs are soaring and our ability to meet those needs is rapidly declining,” World Health Organization regional emergencies chief Rick Brennan told Reuters, reiterating international calls for a ceasefire to enable a larger humanitarian operation.
The White House said it was working to get more aid trucks into Gaza.
MANY PALESTINIANS STAY PUT DESPITE WARNINGS
Israel renewed warnings for civilians to move from the north of Gaza to the south as it began an advance late on Friday to pursue Hamas militants it says are hiding in a labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza City.
Many Palestinians have stayed put, some fearing they might become homeless as in previous generations and some alarmed by Israeli aerial strikes further south.
Fadi, who lives in the Jabalia refugee camp on Gaza City’s northern outskirts and declined to give his last name, said the area was now in mortal danger from Israel’s ground offensive with tanks rumbling on its fringes. He vowed not to flee.
“No one in the entire neighbourhood has left. We are staying,” he told Reuters by phone. “Whether tanks or planes, there will not be another displacement (of Palestinians). That is our decision even if that will mean our martyrdom (death).”
Islamist militants said they had repelled an attempted thrust by Israeli tanks into Gaza City from the east and were fighting them along the border with Israel in north Gaza.
“Our duty today is fight and fight,” the Islamic Jihad militant group, fighting alongside Gaza’s ruling Hamas, said in a statement, adding that now was not the time for a ceasefire.
The Israeli military said it had killed four prominent Hamas operatives. “IDF troops killed dozens of terrorists who barricaded themselves in buildings and tunnels, and attempted to attack the troops,” it said in an update, using the abbreviation for the Israel Defense Forces.
In a statement, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that the army would continue to expand the ground operation.
“Additional infantry, armor and combat engineering forces are entering Gaza for the continued coordinated operations by land, air and sea at full force,” Hagari said.
Neither side commented on the other’s reports.
ISRAELI FORCES REACH MAIN NORTH-SOUTH GAZA ROAD
On Monday, residents said Israeli forces carried out dozens of airstrikes on Gaza City’s eastern side, with some reporting the roar of tanks rolling in amid exchanges of fire.
Witnesses said Israeli tanks also reached Gaza’s main coastal north-south Salahudeen road during the day, in an apparent bid to intensify the siege in the north by cutting Gaza City off from the enclave’s southern half.
Later, residents and the Hamas-run government’s media office said the tanks had pulled back towards the fortified boundary fence around Gaza. Hamas’ armed wing said intense mortar fire had pushed them back, and fellow militants Islamic Jihad said its fighters were battling Israeli forces in the area.
Reuters could not immediately verify the reports. The Israeli military said it would not give details on the positions of its forces.
Palestinian health officials reported airstrike impacts near three large hospitals in Gaza City on Monday. The U.N. humanitarian office OCHA said 117,000 civilians were sheltering alongside patients and doctors in hospitals in the north.
Israel has accused Hamas of placing command centres and weaponry near hospitals, which the group denies.
“Where should we go? It is all one death,” said Hatem Sultan, sheltering near Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the enclave’s biggest medical centre.
OCHA said rescuers were struggling to reach people. “As of 29 October about 1,800 people, including at least 940 children, have been reported missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble, awaiting rescue or recovery,” it said.
OCHA also said Palestinian armed groups were continuing to launch rockets into Israel indiscriminately, with no fatalities reported.
NETANYAHU CALLS HAMAS VIDEO ‘PSYCHOLOGICAL PROPAGANDA’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned as “cruel psychological propaganda” a video released by Hamas showing three female hostages with one accusing him of failing to protect and secure the release of all the captives.
Netanyahu said Israel’s ground campaign creates possibilities for rescuing the hostages.
“Hamas will not do it unless they are under pressure,” he told reporters. “We obviously greeted one hostage with open arms after yesterday’s successful action … but we’re committed to getting all the hostages back home. We think that this method stands a chance.”
Hamas has released four hostages and said 50 have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were also fighting Israeli forces in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Jenin. The Palestinian health ministry said four people were killed there on Monday. Israel said an airstrike killed several fighters.
The conflict has led to demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians, and antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment.
Russian authorities said they had taken over an airport in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region and arrested 60 people after hundreds of anti-Israel protesters stormed the facility in search of Jewish passengers on a plane from Israel.