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Israel intensifies its attacks on Gaza despite Blinken’s call to reduce civilian casualties

The U.S. Secretary of State assures that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is committed to being part of the Strip’s future government. Meanwhile, the Houthis launched a massive attack in the Red Sea on Wednesday

Antony Blinken
U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, this Wednesday, in Bahrain.Evelyn Hockstein (AP)
Juan Carlos Sanz

He said it on Tuesday in Tel Aviv in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and reiterated it on Wednesday in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the Palestinian Authority (PA), before Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. After nearly three months of Israeli bombardments, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is calling on Israel to avoid further harming the civilian population during its attack on the Gaza Strip. He is also urging that the delivery of humanitarian aid be sped up to tend to the enclave’s desperate population. Israeli troops, however, have intensified operations in the center and south of the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that Israel’s Defense Ministry announced last week that the war would enter a new phase focused on strategic targets instead of massive, indiscriminate attacks.

After having declared Hamas’ armed wing “dismantled” in the north, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are concentrating their attacks on the Maghazi refugee camp (located in the center of the Strip) and Khan Yunis (south). The latter came under heavy bombardments on Wednesday, as the IDF hit more than 150 targets and uncovered 15 of Hamas’ underground tunnels. Those attacks killed about 150 Palestinians by noon alone. Nearly 90% of the territory’s 2.3 million inhabitants have been displaced by Israel’s military offensive and are crowded in inhumane conditions in the southernmost part of the Strip, after Israel forced them to leave the north. The Israeli army is now asking the population to evacuate in the direction of Rafah, on the Egyptian border — an area that, despite having been declared a safe zone by Israel, has also come under heavy Israeli fire throughout the conflict.

In Rafah, 15 family members of senior Hamas armed commander Ayman Nofal, who was killed in an Israeli air strike in October, were also killed by Israeli bombs. As verified by Reuters in a hospital morgue, most of them were children. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been forced to suspend its seventh aid mission to Gaza in three weeks. “The obstacles to transporting [aid] are almost insurmountable,” warned officials from the U.N. agency. “People queue for hours to get a little water, which is not even drinkable, or bread,” lamented WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, who recalled that only a dozen health centers are partially operational.

Speaking in Ramallah, Blinken also advocated for the creation of a Palestinian state, but his demand for the formation of a cabinet of technocrats, without the presence of political leaders, did not resonate with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who refuses to approve a change of government as long as the Gaza war continues. The U.S. wants a reformed Palestinian Authority to take over the Strip after the end of the conflict. Israel proposes only a limited Palestinian administration, dependent on neighborhood mayorships and clan patriarchs. Blinken also called on the Israeli government to transfer to the Ramallah executive the taxes that Israel collects on its behalf and which have been blocked since the outbreak of the conflict on October 7. The Secretary of State also assured that Israel has accepted that a “U.N. evaluation mission” visit the north of the Strip to prepare for the return of the population displaced by the war, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Smoke rises following Israeli air strikes in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, 10 Jan 2024
Israeli attack on Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, this Wednesday.HAITHAM IMAD (EFE)

Mahmoud Abbas — 88 years old and in power since 2005 without having held presidential elections since he became president — expressed to Blinken his concern over the forced displacement of the Palestinian population and the risk that a future Palestinian territory will be separated into two. Abbas emphasized that Gaza, which has been controlled exclusively by Hamas for 17 years, is “essential” for the existence of a Palestinian state. He also called for an international peace conference to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem.

“The president will not allow the displacement of the Palestinian people from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem,” the official Wafa news agency quoted Abbas as saying in response to statements by members of the Israeli government, “who seek the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their land.”

Blinken continued his tour of the Middle East on Wednesday, heading for Bahrain and Egypt, in his attempt to contain the expansion of the Gaza war in the north, on the Lebanese border, and in the south, on the strategic commercial route of the Red Sea. On his stopover in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, Blinken declared that Abbas is “committed” to reforming the PA “so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza” and unify it with the West Bank.

Houthis carry out a massive attack in the Red Sea

The U.S. armed forces assured early Wednesday that they had shot down some twenty drones and three missiles in a massive attack launched by Yemeni Houthi rebels against merchant ships in the Red Sea, according to the Efe news agency. The Pentagon has indicated that the devices were launched from rebel-held areas of Yemen into international shipping lanes, with no injuries or damage reported. U.K. Secretary of State for Defense Grant Shapps assured Wednesday that the attack by the Houthis was “the largest in decades.”

On the northern front, Israel claimed responsibility for an air strike that killed Ali Hussein Barji, commander of Hezbollah’s aerial forces in southern Lebanon, according to IDF chief spokesman Daniel Hagari. And in the West Bank, the Israeli army admitted Wednesday that one of its vehicles “unintentionally” ran over the body of a Palestinian during armed clashes in Tulkarem, on the northwestern dividing line with Israel, reports AFP. A video widely circulated on social media shows an Israeli military vehicle stopping in front of a body lying on the ground before running over it with its wheels. The Israeli army frequently undertakes operations in the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967. Since the start of the war in Gaza, violence has soared to levels not seen since the Second Intifada (2000-2005).

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