GAZA: Israeli ground forces carried out a big raid into Gaza overnight against Hamas targets amid growing anger in the Arab world over Israel’s relentless bombardment of the besieged Palestinian territory.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said Israeli troops were still preparing for a full ground invasion, while the US and other countries urged Israel to delay such action, fearing it could ignite hostilities on other Middle East fronts.
The UN agency providing aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza said it may have to shut down operations very soon if no fuel reaches the Hamas-ruled territory amid a desperate need for shelter, water, food and medical services.
Israel has for nearly three weeks bombarded the densely populated Gaza Strip following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israeli communities. Israel says Hamas killed some 1,400 people and took more than 200 hostage.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Thursday that 7,028 Palestinians had been killed in the retaliatory air strikes, including 2,913 children.
On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden cast doubt on the Palestinian casualty figures, which an Israeli military spokesman said could not be trusted.
The military has not provided any assessment of its own and Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra rejected the statements questioning the figures.
The ministry on Thursday published a document which it said contains the names of all the victims identified and their ID numbers.
Israeli army radio said the military had overnight staged its biggest incursion into northern Gaza of the current war. Armored vehicles crossed the fortified border and blew up buildings, a military video showed.
“Tanks and infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts,” it said.
Palestinians said Israeli air strikes pounded the territory again overnight and people in central Gaza reported intensive tank shelling all night.
With no sign of a let-up in Gaza, the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates condemned what they called the targeting of civilians and violations of international law.
Their joint statement said Israel’s right to self-defense did not justify breaking the law and neglecting Palestinians’ rights. The Arab ministers condemned forced displacement and collective punishment of Palestinians in Gaza.
They also criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas and called for more efforts to implement a two-state solution to the decades-long conflict — an idea at the heart of long-moribund peacemaking.
“The absence of a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has led to repeated acts of violence and suffering for the Palestinian and Israeli peoples and the peoples of the region,” it said.
Support for Israel came from European governments.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Friday will send a clear signal of backing for Israel.
“We can be certain that the Israeli army will respect the rules that arise from international law in everything it does,” Scholz said.
But in words reflecting divisions within the bloc, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned Israel against starving Gaza.
Israel had a right to take action and to prevent future attacks, he said.
“But that is never an excuse for blocking a whole region, for blocking humanitarian aid. It cannot be an excuse to starve a population.”
Concern also grew over the fate of more than 200 hostages seized by Hamas in the Oct. 7 assault and taken to Gaza.
A spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, said on Thursday about 50 captives had been killed in Gaza due to Israeli strikes. He gave no further details and Reuters was unable to verify the numbers.
Israel says there are 224 hostages, whose presence complicates any Israeli ground invasion. This includes a number of foreign passport holders. Hamas has freed four captives since Friday.
A Qatari negotiator told Sky News that a pause in fighting could help get more hostages released in coming days.
Qatari Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Mohammed Al Khulaifi said: “It’s a very, very difficult negotiation … With the bombing continuing every day, our task becomes more difficult. But despite that we remain hopeful.”
In Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, an Israeli air strike hit a house, killing a mother, her three daughters and a baby boy, whose father held his body in hospital.
“Did he kill? Did he wound someone? Did he capture someone? They were innocent children inside their house,” he said.
The director of the Nasser hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, Nahed Abu Taaema, said the bodies of 77 people killed in airstrikes had been brought in overnight, most of them women and children, Hamas’s Al-Aqsa radio station reported.
Around midday on Thursday, Nasser hospital officials said, Israel bombed an area not far from an UNRWA shelter for displaced people, killing at least 18 people.
Israel said its forces had struck a Hamas missile launch post in the Khan Younis area that was next to a mosque and kindergarten. It was unclear whether the two sides were referring to the same incident.
Many Palestinians are sheltering in Khan Younis hospitals, schools, homes and refugee camps and on the street after Israel warned them to leave their homes in the north.
The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it urgently needed fuel to maintain life-saving humanitarian operations in Gaza. Israel has refused to let in fuel with aid shipments, saying it could be seized by Hamas.
More than 613,000 people made homeless by the war are sheltering in 150 UNRWA facilities across the shattered territory.
Humanitarian supplies are critically low but world powers failed at the United Nations to agree on how to call for a lull to the fighting to deliver significant amounts of aid.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, speaking at the UN, said that if Israel’s offensive against Hamas did not stop, the United States will “not be spared from this fire.”