Hand-to-hand combat now rages day and night inside Gaza as Israel’s army tries to break through Hamas defenses on its way to what is expected to be the toughest stage of the invasion, the urban battle in the Strip’s capital. Israeli troops are fighting militants who, at times, applying guerrilla warfare techniques with constant ambushes, emerge from underground hiding places to carry out surprise counterattacks, according to an Israeli military spokesperson. Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes continue in their fourth week, and on Thursday, about fifteen people were killed in the Bureij refugee camp, south of the Gazan capital, reported Reuters. The Jabaliya camp, the largest in the Strip, located in the north of Gaza City, was already targeted on Tuesday and Wednesday, killing dozens.
“We’re at the height of the battle. We’ve had impressive successes and have passed the outskirts of Gaza City. We are advancing,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Our forces are at this moment in the heart of the ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip,” explained the head of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), General Herzi Halevi. He added that they are closely monitoring the fuel stocks on which the health system in the Palestinian enclave depends, and that they will not prevent its entry when it runs out. “Fuel will be transferred, with monitoring, to the hospitals. We will do everything needed to ensure that it will not reach Hamas infrastructures, that it will not end up serving war aims but the real needs of treating the sick,” he said during a televised appearance quoted by Reuters.
The Gazan population is exposed to a “grave risk of genocide” and time is running out, a group of UN experts concluded after analyzing the situation, while calling for a humanitarian cease-fire, according to a statement issued from Geneva. For the moment, Israel refuses to accept any cessation of hostilities. The humanitarian crisis affecting the inhabitants of the Strip is the result of the Israeli blockade and bombardments. It is deepened not only by the lack of fuel, but also by other problems such as the lack of water, food or medicines, which are not reaching Gaza due to Israel’s siege. Only a few dozen aid trucks have been allowed passage into Gaza through the border with Egypt. “Water is being used as a weapon of war,” denounced Juliette Touma, spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
A total of 18 Israeli military personnel have lost their lives in the ground invasion of Gaza. Since the beginning of the war on October 7, 9,061 citizens of the Strip (3,760 of them children), most of them civilians, have been killed in bombardments, according to Palestinian health authorities. On the 7th, Hamas killed 1,400 people in Israeli territory, mostly civilians, and kidnapped 240 to keep as hostages.
The heaviest fighting is concentrated in the north of the Palestinian enclave. Meanwhile, in the south, through the Rafah border crossing that leads to Egyptian territory, which was opened on Wednesday for the first time to civilians since the beginning of the war, citizens with dual passports are leaving. Up to 400 have managed to do so thus far. For the moment, only those who appear on an official list can do so, according to Reuters. In any case, it is a movement of people that advances in dribs and drabs while a population of 2.3 million people is being shaken — in addition to the war — by a deep humanitarian crisis due to the blockade imposed by Israel.
Several dozens of wounded civilians were also evacuated through the Rafah border crossing on Wednesday to be treated in Egypt. Regarding the more than 200 Israeli hostages being held by Hamas, there has not been any breakthroughs in negotiations for their release. The Qatari government, with the collaboration of Egypt and the United States, is leading the talks with Hamas to secure their freedom.
On the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives Friday in Israel on his third visit since the Oct. 7 massacre. He will also travel to neighboring Jordan, which has recalled its ambassador from Israel in protest at Israel’s reaction to the Hamas attach. Bahrain has also recalled its representative to Israel for consultations, becoming the first country involved in the Abraham Accords to distance itself from Israel, which sponsored these agreements on Arab–Israeli normalization in 2020.
The physical proximity of the combatants on the battlefield confirms a new stage of the conflict in which, in addition to aviation and artillery, infantry plays a fundamental role. After several temporary incursions, Israeli troops gained definitive access to the Palestinian enclave last Friday afternoon. General Itzik Cohen explained on Wednesday that the troops had moved deeper into Palestinian territory and were at the gates of Gaza City.
“Last night, [IDF] forces faced many saboteurs who tried to set up ambushes, and after fighting that lasted several hours, many of the saboteurs were eliminated. We continue to destroy Hamas’ defense lines in the northern Gaza Strip and seize central areas,” Avichay Adraee, an Arabic-language spokesman for the Israeli army, said on Thursday via X (formerly Twitter). These clashes between the two sides are taking place “hand-to-hand,” he added, implying that the war has entered a phase of proximity combat.
Resistance in the tunnels
The network of tunnels has become a fundamental weapon for Hamas’ resistance against an army that is far superior in personnel, means and technology. In war, however, it is usually the attacker who risks more than the defender. The Islamic resistance movement has shown videos in which its militiamen emerge from under the ground, armed with grenade launchers, and take up positions before attacking tanks of the Israeli occupation forces. A militant records the scene and rejoices before returning to the tunnel. In another video, they show how a drone drops a small bomb on a group of soldiers inside the Strip. This tactic is often employed by Ukrainian troops to hit Russian invaders in the east or south of the country.
Israel is carrying out the heaviest attacks in the north of the Strip. There, after Thursday’s attack on the Bureij camp, it had already hit the Jabaliya refugee camp twice in the last three days, leaving dozens of victims and destroying buildings in what it claims was a new operation to wipe out the Hamas infrastructure.
In the West Bank, tensions continue to run high, where four Palestinians were killed Thursday in clashes with Israeli occupation forces. In the north, on the Lebanese-Israeli border front, the Israeli army claims to have attacked a squadron attempting to launch anti-tank missiles from Lebanese territory. Late Wednesday afternoon, a missile landed in the town of Kyriat Shmona, near the well-known blue line separating the two countries, which had a population of 23,000 before the army ordered its evacuation two weeks ago.
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