Israel pressed its war to crush Hamas on Sunday nearly a month after the worst attack in the country’s history, as the Palestinian group said strikes on a central Gaza refugee camp and a water reservoir killed over 38.
Fighting continues to rage in densely populated Gaza, despite calls for a ceasefire from Arab countries and desperate civilians after 30 days of war.
Unwilling to consider a ceasefire, however, Israel dropped fresh evacuation notices on Sunday urging Gazans to move north amid continued bombing.
More than 9,488 Palestinians, mostly women, children and the elderly, have been killed in Gaza as Israel has continued with relentless air strikes, bombing and an increasingly intensifying ground campaign for a month since October 7, when Hamas launched a surprise raid claiming 1,400 Israeli lives and took 240 captives.
Read Gaza patients at risk in ‘indescribable’ situation – WHO
Israel has since bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip every single day, targetting hospitals, refugee camps, residential areas and aid centres alike under the guise of ‘annhilating’ Hamas.
Since Israel sent troops into the narrow Palestinian territory late last month, “over 2,500 terror targets have been struck” by “ground, air and naval forces”, the Israeli army said on Sunday.
In a statement, it said ground soldiers were engaged in “close-quarters combat” as Israeli jets were striking targets including a “Hamas military compound” at an undisclosed location overnight.
In the latest onslaught in Gaza, Salama Marouf, head of the Palestinian government media office, told Reuters the Israeli strike in Maghazi killed at least 38 Palestinians and wounded 100. A Palestinian news agency had earlier reported 51 dead.
Marouf said an unknown number of people remained missing and rescue workers were trying to search for them under the rubble of the destroyed houses while AFP cited an eyewitness reporting children among the dead and homes smashed.
Meanwhile, Times of Gaza reported bombing on a water resorvoir in the northern Gaza Strip.
“An Israeli air strike targeted my neighbours’ house in Al-Maghazi camp, my house next door partially collapsed,” said Mohammed Alaloul, 37, a journalist working for the Turkish Anadolu Agency.
Alaloul told AFP his 13-year-old son, Ahmed, and his four-year-old son, Qais, were killed in the bombing, along with his brother. His wife, mother, and two other children were injured.
A military spokesperson said they were looking into whether their forces had been operating in the area at the time of the bombing.
More than 240 Israeli and foreign captives were taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack, claim Israeli officials. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed proposals of a truce until Hamas releases them all.
Read more Blinken rejects Arabs calls for Gaza ceasefire
Hamas spokespersons have since informed that some of the captives have also been killed by Israel’s indiscriminate air strikes.
Since Israel launched its ground invasion, Hamas has resisted efforts by the Israeli forces to take over further territory.
Israel on Thursday said it had struck 12,000 targets across Gaza during the war, one of the fiercest bombing campaigns in recent memory.
Hamas said in a statement posted on Telegram that Israel had “directly” bombed civilian homes, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Concerns over West Bank
Worsening violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank has fuelled concerns that the flashpoint Palestinian territory could become a third front in a wider war – in addition to Israel’s northern border, where clashes with Lebanese Hezbollah forces have mounted.
“This has been a serious problem that’s only worsened since the conflict,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, adding that he raised it on Friday in his meetings with Israeli officials. “Perpetrators must be held accountable.”
This year had already been the deadliest for West Bank residents in at least 15 years, with some 200 Palestinians and 26 Israelis killed, according to U.N. data. Since the war in Gaza began, 121 West Bank Palestinians have been killed.
Daily attacks by Israeli settlers have more than doubled, UN figures show, even though most of the deaths have occurred during clashes with Israeli soldiers.
Encircling Gaza City
Israel last month ordered all civilians to leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, and head to the south of the enclave.
The Israeli military has since encircled Gaza’s biggest city and is engaging in fierce street fighting with Hamas militants.
Israeli planes dropped leaflets on Gaza City, ordering people to leave towards the south through the Salah Al-Deen Road between 10am and 2pm (0800-1200 GMT) on Sunday.
“Time has come, the state of Israel asks you to preserve your lives and to evacuate your homes from the areas of fighting,” said the statement. “Use the chance and evacuate immediately through Salah Al-Deen Road.”
Traffic will be allowed on Salah al-Din Street on Sunday from 10am to 2pm [08:00 GMT to 12:00 GMT]the military said on its Arabic X account.
US special envoy David Satterfield said in Amman on Saturday that between 800,000 and a million people had moved to the south of the Gaza Strip, while 350,000 to 400,000 remained in and around Gaza City.
Gaza’s living conditions, already dire before the fighting, have deteriorated further. Food is scarce, residents have resorted to drinking salty water and medical services are collapsing.
Further read ‘Stop genocide’ of Palestinians, Pakistan asks Israel
The UN humanitarian office OCHA estimates that nearly 1.5 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are internally displaced.
Calls for ceasefire grow
Israel’s assault and siege have stirring global alarm at humanitarian conditions in the narrow coastal enclave.
As the war ground into its fifth week, Blinken is set to continue his Middle East tour Sunday with a visit to Turkey, where Ankara has hardened its tone against Israel and its Western supporters with the death toll in Gaza surging.
Foreign ministers from Qatar, Saudi, Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Amman on Saturday and pushed for Washington to persuade Israel to agree to a ceasefire.
Blinken faced a rising tide of anger in meetings with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday, where he reaffirmed US support for “humanitarian pauses” to ensure desperate civilians get help, a day after Netanyahu gave the idea short shrift.
“This war is just going to produce more pain for Palestinians, for Israelis, and this is going to push us all again into the abyss of hatred and dehumanisation,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a press conference with Blinken. “So that needs to stop.”
However, the top US diplomat dismissed the idea of a ceasefire, saying it would only benefit Hamas, allowing the fighter group to regroup and attack again.
Washington had proposed localised pauses in fighting to allow in humanitarian aid and for people to leave the densely populated Gaza Strip. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected this when he met Blinken on Friday in Tel Aviv.
Speaking in Shanghai, Mohammad Mokhber, Iran’s first vice president, called Israeli actions “a war crime”, adding, “We need to end this immediately and provide more humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whose country has been acting as the sole conduit for foreigners to escape the Gaza Strip and for aid to get in, called for an “immediate and comprehensive ceasefire”.
The call for a ceasefire was echoed by thousands of protesters on Saturday marching in the US capital in solidarity with Palestinians, one of multiple similar rallies held from Indonesia to Iran, as well as in European cities.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged protests on Saturday in cities including London, Berlin, Paris, Istanbul, Jakarta and Washington, demanding a ceasefire.
Tens of thousands gathered in Washington to denounce President Joe Biden’s war policy and demand a ceasefire. Some carried posters reading “Palestinian Lives Matter”, “Let Gaza Live” and “Their blood is in on your hands”.
In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told tens of thousands gathered in Jakarta on Sunday that the government reaffirmed its support for the struggle of the Palestinian people and would send a second shipment of aid.
Hamas said late Saturday the evacuation of dual nationals and foreigners from Gaza was being suspended until Israel lets some wounded Palestinians reach Rafah so they can cross the border for hospital treatment in Egypt.
A senior White House official said Hamas had tried to use a US-brokered deal opening the Egyptian border crossing to get its cadres out.
“That was just unacceptable to Egypt, to us, to Israel,” the official said.
Palestinian ally Turkey on Saturday said it was recalling its ambassador to Israel and breaking off contacts with Netanyahu in protest at the bloodshed in Gaza.
Turkey had been mending torn relations with Israel until last month’s start of the Israel-Hamas war.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters he held Netanyahu personally responsible for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza.
“Netanyahu is no longer someone we can talk to. We have written him off,” Turkish media quoted Erdogan as saying.
Blinken is to visit Turkey on Monday for talks on the conflict, continuing his second trip to the region since the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict reignited.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said the move was “another step by the Turkish president that sides with the Hamas terrorist organisation”.
Meanwhile, Indian Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “it is horrific and shameful beyond words that almost 10,000 civilians of which nearly 5000 are children have been massacred, whole family lines have been finished off, hospitals and ambulances have been bombed, refugee camps targeted and yet the so-called leaders of the “free” world continue to finance and support the genocide in Palestine”.
“A ceasefire is the very least step that should be immediately enforced by the international community or it will have no moral authority left,” she said.
India’s Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government, however, has remained unwavering in its support for Israel.
In the north of Israel, the army and Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement traded fire across the border on Saturday, with each claiming to have hit the other’s positions along the frontier.
The skirmishes came a day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that the war between Israel and Hamas could draw in other forces in a regional conflict.
Blinken on Saturday held talks in Amman with his counterparts from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all key players in the crisis.
In his talks with the US top diplomat, King Abdullah II of Jordan underlined that “the only way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to work towards a political horizon to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution”.
The US administration has said that it too backs a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but Netanyahu’s hard-right government is implacably opposed.