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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, Dec 5 — Israel’s army on Monday sent dozens of tanks into southern Gaza as part of expanded action against Hamas despite global concern over mounting civilian deaths, and as communications was cut across the besieged territory.
Weeks after Israel deployed ground forces in the north of the Gaza Strip, the army has been air-dropping leaflets in parts of the south, telling Palestinians to flee to other areas.
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas in retaliation for the Hamas group’s unprecedented October 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and saw around 240 hostages taken, according to Israeli authorities.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says nearly 15,900 people have been killed in the territory, about 70 per cent of them women and children, during Israel’s relentless air, artillery and naval bombardments alongside its ground campaign.
The toll has sparked global alarm and mass demonstrations.
The Elders, a group of global leaders, accused Israel of “disproportionate” action and called on governments providing military assistance to Israel to rethink their approach.
The group said in a statement Israel’s retaliation “has reached a level of inhumanity towards Palestinians in Gaza that is intolerable”.
“More killing is not the answer. Negotiation is the way to end this conflict,” they said.
Tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers were seen Monday near the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis, which is packed with internally displaced Palestinians, witnesses told AFP.
At the crowded entrance to the city’s Nasser hospital, ambulances and private cars delivered dazed, bloodied and dust-covered survivors.
Hoping to flee the bombardments, others continued to move further south, their belongings piled onto donkey carts, battered vehicles and even camels, but air strikes have followed them right to the southern border.
“People are pleading for advice on where to find safety,” Thomas White, Gaza director for the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, wrote on social media. “We have nothing to tell them.”
Trapped under rubble
Amin Abu Hawli, 59, said Israeli vehicles were two kilometres (1.2 miles) inside Gaza in the village of Al-Qarara, while Moaz Mohammed, 34, said Israeli tanks were moving down the strip’s main north-south highway.
The military was trying to cut the road between Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and Khan Yunis, “firing bullets and tank shells at cars and people trying to move through the area,” Mohammed said.
The army said it was taking “aggressive” action against “Hamas and other terrorist organisations” in Khan Yunis, warning that the main road in the north and east of the city “constitutes a battlefield”.
Walaa Abu Libda found shelter at Deir al-Balah’s Al-Aqsa hospital but said her four-year-old daughter remained trapped under rubble.
“I don’t know if she is dead or alive,” said Libda, one of an estimated 1.8 million people displaced in Gaza — roughly three-quarters of the population, according to UN figures.
Three more Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of troop deaths there to 75, the army said on Monday.
Full-scale fighting resumed Friday after the collapse of a week-long truce brokered by Qatar with support from the United States and Egypt, during which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in exchange for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
More than two dozen Thai and other captives were also released from Gaza.
With at least 137 hostages still held in Gaza, according to the Israeli military, Hamas has ruled out more releases until a permanent ceasefire is agreed.
More air strikes also hit northern Gaza where Hamas’ armed wing reported clashes with Israeli tanks.
Rocket salvos were again fired from Gaza towards Israeli territory.
‘Like an earthquake’
In the southern Gazan city of Rafah, resident Abu Jahar al-Hajj said an air strike near his home felt “like an earthquake”.
“Pieces of concrete started falling on us,” he said.
International Committee of the Red Cross president Mirjana Spoljaric, visiting Gaza, described the suffering as “intolerable”.
Conditions worsened further Monday with all mobile and telephone services across Gaza severed “due to the cut-off of main fibre routes from the Israeli side,” the Paltel company said.
Gazans were already short of food, water and other essentials including fuel.
Israel’s ally the United States has asked Israel to let more fuel in, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Monday.
The US intensified calls for the protection of Gaza’s civilians, and Miller voiced guarded praise for Israeli tactics as its campaign expands in the south.
“We’ve seen a much more targeted request for evacuations” than in the earlier campaign in the north, he said.
“So that is an improvement on what’s happened before.”
Israel said that it was not seeking to force Palestinian civilians to permanently leave their homes.
“We have asked civilians to evacuate the battlefield and we have provided a designated humanitarian zone inside the Gaza Strip,” military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, referring to a tiny coastal area of the territory named Al-Mawasi.
Any suggestion of Palestinian dispersal is highly contentious in the Arab world as the war that led to Israel’s creation 75 years ago gave rise to the exodus or forced displacement of 760,000 Palestinians.
At the United Nations on Monday, Israel and Palestinian representatives traded accusations of “genocide” over the war, both sides demanding an international response.
With fears of a wider regional conflagration, the Israeli army said it had launched artillery strikes in response to cross-border fire from Lebanon and its fighter jets hit targets linked to Iran-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The Israel-occupied West Bank has also seen a surge in violence, with more than 250 Palestinians killed there since the war began, according to Palestinian authorities.
The Palestinian Authority’s health ministry said Monday two more were shot dead in an Israeli raid on the town of Qalqilya, and a third in Qalandia refugee camp, while two were killed near Hebron.
Despite the war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, suspended along with some court activity when the war began, resumed Monday.
He is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies. — AFP
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