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Israel intensifies ground and air strikes on nearly cut-off Gaza

UN denounces war crimes in conflict for first time and Palestinian refugee agency warns many will soon starve to death

Explosions caused by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.
Explosions caused by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.Abed Khaled (AP / LAPRESSE)

The Israeli army has increased aerial bombing on Gaza and announced an “expansion” of ground operations this Friday. Shortly afterwards, Gaza residents have reported the entry of Israeli troops into the enclave, which has been virtually cut off as telephone and internet communications have been disrupted, according to local media reports. The army has not clarified whether the troop movement constitutes the ground invasion to overthrow Hamas that it has been announcing for days or whether it is a temporary incursion with tanks and infantry like those of the last few days. The former, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi has warned, would mean a “humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions.”

“In the last few hours, we have increased the attacks,” Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Friday afternoon. The bombings have focused on “underground targets,” referring to Hamas’ network of tunnels, and “terrorist infrastructures,” he posted on the social network X (formerly Twitter). The Netblocks observatory recorded “a collapse of connectivity,” “amid reports of heavy bombardment”. The Palestinian company Jawal also reported the outage, which puts the Strip in an information blackout.

All this, three weeks after Hamas struck a surprise attack at dawn on October 7, also in the middle of the Jewish Shabbat and with the country half asleep, killing 1,400 people in an incursion never before seen in Israeli territory.

Earlier, the United Nations had raised its tone on what is happening in Gaza. The agency’s human rights office has warned that war crimes are being committed. Both the “collective punishment” of the Palestinian population and the capture of hostages in Israeli territory by Hamas fall into that category, according to a statement released on Friday by the agency headed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

This is the first time that the term “war crime” has been used at the institutional level to talk about what is happening in Gaza. The UN Human Rights office warns that “collective punishment is a war crime. Israel’s collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza must immediately cease. The use of dehumanizing language against Palestinians must also be halted.” The statement also says that “indiscriminate attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including through the launching of unguided rockets into Israel, must stop. They must immediately and unconditionally release all civilians who were captured and are still being held. The taking of hostages is also a war crime.“

Guerra Israel Hamás
A Palestinian shouts as he stands over bodies of people killed in an Israeli strike outside Al-Najjar Hospital. Abed Rahim Khatib (DPA / Europa Press)

The statement comes the same week in which Israel has already engaged in a bitter confrontation with the United Nations and announced the blocking of visas for the humanitarian chief and other officials of the organization after accusing Secretary-General António Guterres of justifying Hamas for saying the October 7 attacks “did not happen in a vacuum” but after “56 years of suffocating occupation.”

Beyond the attacks, the commissioner general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), Philippe Lazzarini, said that the trickle of trucks being allowed into the area from the Rafah crossing in Egypt are “nothing more than crumbs that will not make a difference for 2 million people.”

“We should avoid conveying the message that a few trucks a day means the siege is lifted for humanitarian aid. It is not. The current system in place is geared to fail,” said Lazzarini in a statement. “What is needed is meaningful and uninterrupted aid flow. To succeed, we need a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure this aid reaches those in need. This is not too much to ask for.”

Ten foreign doctors and 10 trucks with medicine, food and water — but no fuel, which Israel refuses to accept — were allowed in on Friday morning, a border official confirmed to Reuters. That brings the total since the current conflict began on October 7 to 84. That is “a drop in the ocean,” says Nebal Farsakh, spokesman for the Palestinian Red Crescent.

During the early hours of the morning, the Israeli army carried out a new ground incursion in Gaza in preparation for the invasion with which they intend to wipe out Hamas, which governs the Strip and whose armed wing led the major attack on Israeli territory three weeks ago. The Israeli army has reported hitting 250 of the group’s targets and killing Madhath Mubashar, its leader in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. The death toll in the Strip stands at 7,326, of whom 3,038 are children, according to data from the Gaza Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, there are signs that the sparks of conflict may spread to the region. In neighboring Egypt, the tourist cities of Taba and Nuweida, on the shores of the Red Sea and close to Israel, were the scene of attacks this Friday with six people reported wounded, said the country’s military authorities. The United States reported last week that one of its warships in the Red Sea intercepted projectiles launched from Yemen, probably towards Israel, by the Huthi rebels, who are backed by Iran, also an ally of Hamas. “Israel will work with Egypt and the United States to strengthen regional defense against threats from the Red Sea region,” said Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari, during a television statement cited by Reuters.

That comes on top of U.S. strikes against pro-Iran groups in eastern Syria in response to missile launches in recent days. At the same time, Israeli troops carried out new operations in the occupied West Bank with a death toll of four in the early hours of Friday.

The agreement between Israel and the United States to allow access to basic goods for the survival of Gazans has gone in a week from “glimmer of hope” to “crumbs” that “distract” from the fact that water, food, fuel and medicine are being used to collectively punish more than two million people, UNRWA’s top official lamented Friday. The UN claims that 450 trucks were entering the Strip every day before. The estimates to be able to face the current crisis would be a hundred daily. António Guterres called Friday for speeding up inspections at the Rafah crossing, which separates Gaza from Egypt, to allow many more trucks to enter Gaza without delay, according to a statement.

Twenty days have elapsed since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing some 1,400 people, and the Israeli army began bombing the Strip indiscriminately, resulting in more than 7,300 fatalities according to Gaza officials. An Israeli ground offensive into the Palestinian enclave, as promised by the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would make it even more difficult for residents to have access to the essentials for survival in a territory where electricity and water is barely reaching the population.

Empty shelves

“In the beginning, people could go to the market or to the stores. Now, no more. Stores have empty shelves. People are struggling to get food, but there are already people starving in Gaza,” warns Nebal Farsakh, spokesman for the Palestinian Red Crescent, speaking over the phone.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, UNRWA’s Lazzarini insisted that “many” Palestinians will die “soon,” not because of the bombings, but because of the consequences of the complete blockade imposed by Israel. His colleagues in Gaza, 57 of whom have lost their lives in the three weeks of air strikes, have begun to report to him the first cases of starvation inside the Strip, he added.

Fuel

Fuel, which Israel is preventing from entering because it claims Hamas has its own and has also stolen it from UNRWA, was at the center of much of what Lazzarini said. The agency has been forced to “drastically limit” its use in recent days, through “difficult decisions” such as determining whether it is needed more by the 50 or so bakeries to which it provides it, by medical centers or by its own staff.

Lazzarini insisted that he has no knowledge of fuel thefts, nor any idea of how much fuel the Hamas government may have. He also stressed the importance of it coming from outside Gaza, although he has opened the door to accessing some deposits in the interior that store some of the fuel that entered at the time by agreement between Israel and Qatar. His personnel will only be able to do so, he added, with the green light from the Armed Forces.

Only two of the bakeries working for the World Food Program (WFP) have fuel, probably only until Saturday, according to a representative of this UN agency. The WFP says that, since Wednesday, they can only serve 150,000 people due to lack of fuel, when they used to serve 200,000 people.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank, incursions by Israeli troops in the early hours of Friday morning caused at least four deaths, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, three of them in Jenin and one more in Qalqilia. This other region of occupied Palestine is experiencing its most convulsive and deadly weeks since the outbreak of the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

Palestinian men carry the body of 17-year-old Osayed Hmaidat during his funeral at the al-Jalazone Palestinian refugee camp, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 27, 2023.
Palestinian men carry the body of 17-year-old Osayed Hmaidat during his funeral at the al-Jalazone Palestinian refugee camp, north of the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 27, 2023.AFP

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