GAZA STRIP: Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza reported on Monday more than 24,000 deaths in the war with Israel which has sent shockwaves across the region, as the fighting passed the grim 100-day milestone.
Deadly violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and along Israel’s border with Lebanon as well as fighting between US forces and Iran-backed Yemeni militants in the Red Sea have raised fears of an escalation beyond the Gaza Strip.
The war, sparked by Palestinian attacks on Israel, has created a humanitarian catastrophe for the 2.4 million people in the besieged strip, the United Nations and aid groups warn, and reduced much of the territory to rubble.
The health ministry in Gaza, ruled by Hamas since 2007, reported more than 60 “martyrs” and dozens more wounded overnight, in what the group’s media office described as “intense” Israeli bombardment across Gaza.
The Hamas government media office said two hospitals, a girls’ school and “dozens” of homes were hit overnight.
Hospitals in Gaza have been hit repeatedly since the war erupted, and the World Health Organization (WHO) says most of them are no longer functioning.
The Israeli military accuses Hamas militants of operating out of civilian facilities or from tunnels under them, a charge the Islamist group denies.
The latest strikes hit the southern cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, as well as areas around Gaza City, the Hamas media office said.
The army said its forces had struck “two terrorists loading weapons into a vehicle” in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, and raided “a Hamas command centre” there and seized weapons.
The UN says more than three months of fighting have displaced roughly 85 percent of the territory’s population, crowded into shelters and struggling to get food, water, fuel and medical care.
“There’s no food, no water, no heating. We are dying from the cold,” said Mohammad Kahil, displaced from northern Gaza to Rafah, on the southern border with Egypt.
‘Living in hell’
Hamas’s October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.
The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 132 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza, including at least 25 believed to have been killed.
Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 24,100 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said people in Gaza were “living in hell”, echoing earlier UN warnings of a fast-approaching famine.
In a joint statement on Sunday, the WHO, World Food Programme (WFP) and UNICEF said “a fundamental step change in the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza is urgently needed”.
They called for “safer, faster” supply routes to be opened, warning that the current levels of aid “fall far short of what is needed to prevent a deadly combination of hunger, malnutrition and disease”.
The WFP said an aid convoy brought food to the territory’s north on Thursday, the first such delivery since a one-week truce ended on December 1.
Cindy McCain, the UN agency’s director, said: “People in Gaza risk dying of hunger just miles from trucks filled with food. Every hour puts countless lives at risk.”
Israel has faced international pressure over surging civilian casualties in Gaza, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under intense domestic pressure to account for political and security failings surrounding the October 7 attacks.
On the war’s 100th day on Sunday, hundreds of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv for events urging action to rescue the remaining hostages.
“One hundred days and they are still abandoned there, 100 days and there is no sign of their return,” said Amit Zach, a graphic designer.
A Hamas spokesman on Sunday said most of the hostages held in Gaza are likely to have been killed, blaming the Israeli leadership for their fate. The claim cannot be independently verified.
Violence involving regional allies of Iran-backed Hamas - considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and the European Union - has surged since the war began.
In Yemen, the US military said its fighter jets had shot down a cruise missile fired at an American destroyer in the Red Sea.
Attacks by Yemen’s Al Houthi militants, who say they act in solidarity with Gaza, have disrupted shipping in the vital maritime trade route, triggering strikes in recent days by US and British forces.
On the Israel-Lebanon border, Israeli forces and Hamas ally Hezbollah have traded near daily fire.
A missile strike on Sunday killed two Israeli civilians, medics said, and three militants who had crossed in from Lebanon died in a gun battle, according to the army.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Israel “has not achieved any real victory” in Gaza and will be forced to end the fighting and negotiate a diplomatic solution.
International efforts to avoid escalation on Sunday saw China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visiting Egypt, where he called for “an international summit for peace” and Palestinian statehood.
Australia’s top diplomat Penny Wong is due in Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates this week to “support international diplomatic efforts towards a durable peace in the Middle East”, her office said.
In Turkey, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, authorities have accused Israeli footballer Sagiv Jehezkel of “incitement” after he celebrated a goal with a message written on a bandage on his left wrist, which read “100 days. 07/10” along with a Star of David.
A Turkish court on Monday released the player, who local media said was expected to return to Israel.
In a testimony to the police, reported by private news agency DHA, 28-year-old Jehezkel - sacked by his Turkish team after Sunday’s match - said he “believes that this 100-day period should end now. I want the war to end.”