Israel presses on with bombarding Gaza, including areas it has called safe zones for Palestinians

Israeli warplanes are striking parts of Gaza it had described as safe zones when telling Palestinians in the south to evacuate

Israeli military helicopter lands near the Gaza Strip border on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023
Israeli military helicopter lands near the Gaza Strip border on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.Leo Correa (AP)

Israeli warplanes struck parts of the Gaza Strip in relentless bombardment Saturday, hitting some of the dwindling bits of land that Israel had described as safe zones when telling Palestinians in the south to evacuate.

Frustration was growing with the United States after it vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, despite wide support, and approved the emergency sale of tank ammunition worth more than $100 million to Israel.

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,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council before the vote.

Gaza’s borders with Israel and Egypt are effectively sealed, leaving 2.3 million Palestinians with no option other than to seek refuge within the territory 25 miles (40 kilometers) long by about 7 miles (11 kilometers) wide.

A day after Israel confirmed it was rounding up Palestinian men for interrogation, some told The Associated Press they had been badly treated.

Osama Oula, one of a group of 10 boys and men dropped off at a hospital in the central town of Deir al-Balah after being freed, said Israeli forces bound him and others with zip ties, beat them for several days and gave them little water to drink. Some were not allowed out to use the toilet. Once freed, barefoot and in their underwear, they were told to walk south, he said.

Another man, Ahmad Nimr Salman, showed his marked and swollen hands from the zip ties. He said his 17-year-old son, Amjad, was still held. “They used to ask us, ‘Are you with Hamas?’ We say ‘no,’ then they would slap us or kick us,” he said. The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the alleged abuse.

With the war now in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,700, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Two hospitals in central and southern Gaza received the bodies of 133 people from Israeli bombings over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said midday Saturday.

Israel holds the Hamas militants responsible for civilian casualties, accusing them of using civilians as human shields, and says it has made considerable efforts with evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way. It says 97 Israeli soldiers have died in the ground offensive after Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 raid in Israel that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. About 240 hostages were taken.

Hamas said Saturday that it continued its rocket fire into Israel.

In Gaza, residents reported airstrikes and shelling, including in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border — one area the Israeli army had told civilians to go. In a colorful classroom there, knee-high children’s tables were strewn with rubble.

“We now live in the Gaza Strip and are governed by the American law of the jungle. America has killed human rights,” said Rafah resident Abu Yasser al-Khatib.

In northern Gaza, Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold, despite heavy resistance from Hamas. The military said it found weapons inside a school in Shujaiyah, a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City, and in a separate incident, militants shot at troops from a U.N.-run school in the northern town of Beit Hanoun.

More than 2,500 Palestinians have been killed since the Dec. 1 collapse of a weeklong truce, about two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

The truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but more than 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza.

On Saturday, a kibbutz that came under attack on Oct. 7 said 25-year-old hostage Sahar Baruch had died in captivity. His captors said Baruch was killed during a failed rescue mission by Israeli forces Friday. The Israeli military only confirmed that two soldiers were seriously wounded in an attempted rescue and no hostages were freed.

With no new cease-fire in sight and humanitarian aid reaching few parts of Gaza, residents reported severe food shortages. Nine of 10 people in northern Gaza reported spending at least one full day and night without food, according to a World Food Program assessment during the truce. Two of three people in the south said the same. The WFP called the situation “alarming.”

“I am very hungry,” said Mustafa al-Najjar, sheltering in a U.N.-run school in the devastated Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. “We are living on canned food and biscuits and this is not sufficient.”

While adults can cope, “it’s extremely difficult and painful when you see your young son or daughter crying because they are hungry,” he said.

On Saturday, 100 trucks carrying unspecified aid entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. That is still well below the daily average before the war.

Despite growing international pressure, President Joe Biden’s administration remains opposed to an open-ended cease-fire, arguing it would enable Hamas to continue posing a threat to Israel.

The administration has approved the emergency sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million, the State Department said Saturday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken determined that “an emergency exists that requires the immediate sale” of the munitions in the U.S. national security interest, meaning the purchase will bypass the congressional review requirement. Such determinations are rare but not unprecedented.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has argued that “a cease-fire is handing a prize to Hamas.”

Blinken continued to speak with counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere amid open criticism of the U.S. stance.

“From now on, humanity won’t think the U.S.A. supports the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech on Saturday.

Protesters at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai called for a cease-fire, despite restrictions on demonstrations.

In southern Gaza, thousands were on the run after what residents called a night of heavy gunfire and shelling.

Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren southern coastline, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians described desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and no toilets.

“I am sleeping on the sand. It’s freezing,” said Soad Qarmoot, who described herself as a cancer patient forced to leave her home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Now her children huddle around a fire.

Imad al-Talateeny, who fled Gaza City, said Muwasi can’t accommodate the growing number of displaced families.

“I lack everything to feel (like) a human,” he said.

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