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Airstrike kills three Palestinians in southern Gaza as Israel presses offensive under new scrutiny

The bombing comes less than a day after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to do all it could to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the besieged territory

Palestinians look at their neighbour's damaged house following an Israeli strike in Rafah on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.
Palestinians look at their neighbour's damaged house following an Israeli strike in Rafah on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024.Fatima Shbair (AP)

Witnesses said three Palestinians were killed Saturday in an airstrike that Israel’s military said was targeting a Hamas commander in southern Gaza, less than a day after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to do all it could to prevent death, destruction and any acts of genocide in the besieged territory.

Israel’s military will be under increasing scrutiny since the top United Nations court also asked Israel for a compliance report in a month. The court stopped short of ordering a cease-fire as part of its binding ruling, but its orders were in part a rebuke of Israel’s conduct in its nearly 4-month war against Gaza’s Hamas rulers.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, the main organization aiding Gaza’s population amid the humanitarian disaster, saw more countries suspend its funding following allegations that a number of Gaza staff members took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war. Britain, Italy and Finland joined the United States, Australia and Canada in putting aid to the agency on hold.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, destroyed vast swaths of Gaza and displaced nearly 85% of a population of 2.3 million people. The Hamas attack in southern Israel killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 hostages were taken.

At least 174 Palestinians were killed over the past day, the Health Ministry in Gaza said. The ministry does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its tolls, but has said about two-thirds are women and children. It said the total number of wounded surpassed 64,000.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the militants embed themselves in the local population. Israel says its air and ground offensive in Gaza has killed more than 9,000 militants.

The Israeli military said Saturday that it had conducted several “targeted raids on terror targets” in the southern city of Khan Younis and that the airstrike in the city of Rafah targeted a Hamas commander.

Bilal al-Siksik said his wife, a son and a daughter were killed in the early morning strike, which came as they slept. He said Friday’s ruling from the U.N. court in The Hague, Netherlands, meant little since it did not stop the war.

“No one can speak in front of them (Israel). America with all its greatness and strength can do nothing,” he said, standing beside the rubble and twisted metal of his home. “What can people do, who have no power or anything?”

Rafah and surrounding areas are crammed with more than 1 million people after Israel’s military ordered civilians to seek refuge there from the fighting elsewhere. Designated evacuation areas have repeatedly come under airstrikes, with Israel saying it would go after militants as needed.

The World Health Organization and the medical charity MSF issued urgent warnings about the largest health facility in Khan Younis, Nasser Hospital, saying remaining staff could barely function with supplies running out and intense fighting nearby.

WHO footage showed people in the crowded facility being treated on blood-smeared floors. Cats scavenged on a mound of medical waste.

“Our patients or the cases we receive are suffering severe burns and pain, and they are in desperate need of painkillers,” Dr. Muhammad Harara said. “We are lacking everything, and these are the only painkillers left we have. If you want to count them, they are only for maybe five or four patients.”

Gaza residents expressed dismay that the U.N. court on Friday did not order an immediate end to the fighting. The case brought by South Africa alleged Israel is committing genocide against the Palestinian territory’s people, a charge Israel vehemently denies. The interim orders did not address the genocide allegations, and a final ruling is expected to take years.

The court ruled that Israel must refrain from harming or killing Palestinian civilians while doing all it can to prevent genocide, including punishing anyone who incites others to support the destruction of Gaza’s people. The judges also ordered Israel to urgently get basic aid to Gaza.

The U.N. and its partners have said aid entering the territory remains well below the daily average of 500 trucks before the war. On Saturday, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees did not immediately comment on how its operations would be affected by key countries suspending their funding, or on details about the allegations against its staffers.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has strongly supported the offensive but has increasingly called for restraint and for more humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with his Egyptian and Qatari counterparts Friday ahead of a trip by his CIA director that is intended to seek progress toward a deal to secure the release of more of the dozens of hostages who remain captive in Gaza in exchange for a pause in the fighting.

More than 100 hostages were released in a swap for Palestinian prisoners during a week-long cease-fire in November. An unspecified number of the remaining 136 hostages are believed to have been killed.

CIA Director Bill Burns will meet in Europe with the head of the intelligence agencies of Israel and Egypt and with the the prime minister of Qatar, according to three people familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss the sensitive talks.

Hamas has said it will only release the hostages in exchange for an end to the war and the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

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