US advises citizens not to travel to Iraq after recent attacks on US personnel

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Israel strikes Gaza, Syria and West Bank as war against Hamas threatens to ignite other fronts

Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza overnight and into Sunday, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank, as the two-week-old war with Hamas threatened to spiral into a broader conflict.
Israel has traded fire with Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group on a near-daily basis since the war began, and tensions are soaring in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have battled militants in refugee camps and carried out two airstrikes in recent days.
For days, Israel has seemed to be on the verge of launching a ground offensive in Gaza as part of its response to Hamas' deadly Oct. 7 rampage. Tanks and tens of thousands of troops have massed at the border, and Israeli leaders have spoken of an undefined next stage in operations.
But the military acknowledges there are still hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza despite a sweeping evacuation order, which would complicate any ground attack. And the risk of triggering a broader war with Hamas' allies in Lebanon and Syria might also give them pause.

Spiraling humanitarian crisis

On Sunday, Egyptian media report a convoy of 17 trucks bringing aid to Palestinians crosses into Gaza. This followed the 20 aid trucks that were allowed to enter on Saturday through the Rafah crossing, the first time anything has gone into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege two weeks ago.
Aid workers said it was far too little to address the spiraling humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where half the territory's 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Hospitals packed with patients and displaced people are running low on medical supplies and fuel for generators, forcing doctors to perform surgeries with sewing needles, using kitchen vinegar as disinfectant, and without anesthesia.
Palestinians sheltering in UN-run schools and tent camps are running low on food and drinking dirty water. The territory's sole power plant shut down over a week ago, causing a territory-wide blackout and crippling water and sanitation systems. The UN humanitarian agency said cases of chicken pox, scabies and diarrhea are on the rise because of the lack of clean water.

Gaza’s Hamas-run Interior Ministry reported heavy Israeli airstrikes across the territory overnight into Sunday, including southern areas where Israel had told Palestinians to seek refuge.
Late Saturday, an airstrike hit a cafe in the southern town of Khan Younis where displaced people had gathered to charge their phones. The nearby Nasser Hospital said 12 people were killed and 75 wounded.
Israel’s military has said it is striking Hamas members and installations, but does not target civilians. Palestinian militants have continued daily rocket attacks, with Hamas saying it targeted Tel Aviv early Sunday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet late Saturday to discuss the expected ground invasion, Israeli media reported. A military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Israel planned to step up airstrikes starting Saturday as preparation for the “next stages of the war.”
An Israeli ground assault would likely lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed in the war — mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack. At least 210 people were captured and dragged back to Gaza, including men, women, children and older adults. Two Americans were released on Friday in what Hamas said was a humanitarian gesture.
More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. That includes the disputed toll from a hospital explosion.

A man reacts as he carries the shrouded body of his child, in front of the morgue of the Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir Balah in the central Gaza Strip, following an Israeli strike on October 22, 2023. (AFP)

Israeli airstrikes on Damascus

Syrian state media meanwhile reported that Israeli airstrikes have targeted the international airports in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo. It said the strikes killed one person and damaged the runways, putting them out of service.
Israel has carried out several strikes in Syria, including on the airports, since the war began. Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes, but says it acts to prevent Hezbollah and other militant groups from bringing in arms from their patron, Iran, which also supports Hamas.

Syria's Prime Minister Hussein Arnous inspects damage at the runway of Damascus International Airport on the outskirts of the Syrian capital on October 13, 2023 after an Israeli air strike. (AFP)

Israel struck Hezbollah targets
In Lebanon, Hezbollah said six of its fighters were killed Saturday, and the group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, warned that Israel would pay a high price if it starts a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel struck Hezbollah targets early Sunday in response to rocket fire, the military said.
Israel also announced evacuation plans for another 14 communities near the border with Lebanon. Kiryat Shmona, with a population of more than 20,000 people, was told to evacuate last week.

Supporters of the Lebanese movements Hezbollah and Amal gather in the southern suburb of Beirut on October 20, 2023, to show solidarity with the Palestinian people. (AFP)

Occupied West Bank
In the occupied West Bank, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops, arrest raids and attacks by Jewish settlers. Israeli forces have closed crossings into the territory and checkpoints between cities, measures they say are aimed at preventing attacks. Israel has arrested hundreds of Palestinians since Oct. 7, mainly suspected Hamas members.
The internationally recognized Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, but it is deeply unpopular and has been the target of violent Palestinian protests.
Israeli forces killed at least five people early Sunday in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Two were killed in an airstrike on a mosque in the town of Jenin, which has seen heavy gunbattles between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops over the past year.

The Israeli military said the mosque compound belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants who had carried out several attacks in recent months and were planning another one.
Sunday’s fatalities brought the death toll in the West Bank to 90 Palestinians since the war broke out on Oct. 7, according to the Health Ministry. Most appear have been killed during fighting with Israeli forces or violent protests.
Thirteen Palestinians, including five minors, and a member of Israel's paramilitary Border Police were killed last week in a battle in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, in which Israel also launched an airstrike.

A man carries a Palestinian national back on a motorcycle as he faces Israeli troops during clashes with them at the northern entrance of the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 20, 2023. (AFP)


Inside Gaza, shellshocked residents said they were unsure where to go or how to protect their families.
“Even in my worst nightmares, I never thought this could be possible,” said Rami Abu Wazna, staring at the destruction in central Gaza’s Al-Zahra neighborhood.
The scale of the bombing has left basic systems unable to function, with the UN reporting around 40 unidentified bodies were buried in a mass grave in Gaza City on Saturday because cold storage ran out before they could be identified.
Meanwhile, the Israeli military said the humanitarian situation was “under control” as aid workers called for the opening of a round-the-clock aid corridor.
The UN humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, said the convey that entered Saturday carried about 4% of an average day's imports before the war and “a fraction of what is needed after 13 days of complete siege.” It is calling for 100 trucks a day to enter. Huge quantities of aid have been gathered near the Egyptian side of the crossing, but there has been no word on when more might enter.
President Joe Biden said the US, which has worked with other mediators to reach an agreement on Rafah, “remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas.”
In a statement, he said the US would work to keep Rafah open and let US citizens leave Gaza. But hundreds of foreign passport holders who had gathered at the crossing on Saturday were unable to depart after the aid convoy entered.
American citizen Dina al- Khatib said she and her family were desperate to get out. “It’s not like previous wars,” she said. “There is no electricity, no water, no internet, nothing.”

AFP infographic based on data released on Oct. 18. Recent figures show the damage to housing at 40 percent.

At a peace summit organized by Egypt, UN chief Antonio Guterres again pleaded for a humanitarian cease-fire “to end this godawful nightmare.”
In a sign of international divisions however, the meeting was unable to agree any joint call, with Western officials demanding a clear condemnation of Hamas, and Arab attendees opting to issue their own statement criticizing world leaders.


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