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Israel presses on with Gaza bombardments as war enters third month

Fresh air strikes have hit the Gaza Strip (AP)
Fresh air strikes have hit the Gaza Strip (AP)

Israeli warplanes have struck parts of the Gaza Strip in relentless bombardments, including some of the dwindling slivers of land Palestinians had been told to evacuate to in the territory’s south.

The latest strikes came a day after the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, despite it being backed by the vast majority of Security Council members and many other nations.

The vote in the 15-member council was 13-1, with the UK abstaining.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said before the vote: “Attacks from air, land and sea are intense, continuous and widespread.”

He said Gaza residents “are being told to move like human pinballs – ricocheting between ever-smaller slivers of the south, without any of the basics for survival”.

Mr Guterres told the council that Gaza was at “a breaking point” with the humanitarian support system at risk of total collapse, and that he feared “the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region”.

Gaza’s borders with Israel and with Egypt are effectively sealed, leaving Palestinians with no option other than to try to seek refuge within the territory.

The overall death toll in Gaza since the start of the war has surpassed 17,400, the majority of them women and children, according to the health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, accusing the militants of using civilians as human shields, and says it has made considerable efforts with its evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way.

On Saturday, Gaza residents reported air strikes and shelling in the northern part of the strip as well as in the south, including the city of Rafah, which lies near the Egyptian border and where the Israeli army had ordered civilians to evacuate to.

Destroyed building
Palestinians sit by the building of the Al-Nadi family destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip (AP)

The main hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah received the bodies of 71 people killed in bombings in the area over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

The hospital also received 160 wounded, the ministry said. In the southern city of Khan Younis, the bodies of 62 people and another 99 wounded were taken to Nasser Hospital over the past 24 hours, the ministry said.

Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold on northern Gaza, where furious fighting has underlined heavy resistance from the territory’s Hamas rulers.

Tens of thousands of residents are believed to remain in the area despite evacuation orders, six weeks after troops and tanks rolled in during the war sparked by Hamas’ deadly October 7 raid targeting civilians in Israel.

About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas raid, and more than 240 people were taken hostage. A temporary truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but more than 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza.

More than 2,200 Palestinians have been killed since the December 1 collapse of the truce, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Despite growing international pressure, the Biden administration remains opposed to an open-ended ceasefire, arguing it would enable Hamas to survive and pose a threat to Israel.

Officials have expressed misgivings in recent days about the rising civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis, but have not pushed publicly for Israel to wind down the war, now in its third month.

Gaza hostage images
Relatives and friends of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group call for their release during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the Hostages Square at the Museum of Art, in Tel Aviv (AP)

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant argued a fresh truce would be a victory for Hamas. “A ceasefire is handing a prize to Hamas, dismissing the hostages held in Gaza, and signalling terror groups everywhere,” he said.

“Stand with Israel in our mission – we are fighting for our future, and we are fighting for the free world.”

As fighting resumed after a brief truce more than a week ago, the US urged Israel to do more to protect civilians and allow more aid to besieged Gaza. The appeals came as Israel expanded its blistering air and ground campaign into southern Gaza, especially the southern city of Khan Younis, sending tens of thousands more fleeing.

Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren coastline in the south, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians who have headed there portrayed a grim picture of desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and poor hygiene facilities.