A woman carries bread next to destroyed houses in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA STRIP: Israeli forces battled Hamas militants and bombed more targets in the devastated Gaza Strip on Tuesday as the UN General Assembly was due to vote on a new demand for a ceasefire.

More than two months into the war sparked by the October 7 attack, the visiting chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, likened Gaza to “hell on earth”.

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Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry charged on Tuesday that Israeli forces were raiding a hospital in Gaza City, the biggest urban centre, in the north of the coastal territory.

“Israeli occupation forces are storming Kamal Adwan hospital after besieging and bombing it for days,” ministry spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra said, accusing troops of rounding up men in the hospital courtyard, including medical staff.

The army did not immediately comment, but Israel has repeatedly accused the Islamist militant group of using hospitals, schools, mosques and tunnels beneath them as military bases —claims Hamas has denied.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said earlier that “the hospital remains surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, and fighting with armed groups has been reported in its vicinity for three consecutive days”.

It said two mothers were killed in a strike on the maternity ward and that about 3,000 internally displaced people were trapped in the facility amid reports of “extreme shortages of water, food and power”.

The war began with Hamas’s October 7 attacks that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures, and saw around 240 hostages taken back to Gaza.

Israel has responded to the unprecedented attacks with an offensive that has reduced much of Gaza to rubble and killed at least 18,200 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

UN agencies and aid groups fear the Palestinian territory will soon be overwhelmed by starvation and disease and are pleading with Israel to boost efforts to protect civilians.

Air and artillery strikes again rained down on multiple targets in Gaza, a day after Defence Minister Yoav Gallant claimed significant progress in the over two-months-old war.

“Hamas is on the verge of dissolution - the IDF is taking over its last strongholds,” said Gallant, referring to the Israel Defence Forces.

‘WWII-level devastation’

The war has deepened the suffering in Gaza, whose devastation the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell has compared that of Germany during World War II.

The UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the war, half of them children.

Israeli air strikes killed at least 12 people in Rafah near the border with Egypt, where tens of thousands are seeking shelter, official Palestinian news agency Wafa said.

One strike left a deep crater and gutted surrounding buildings. Teenagers were salvaging belongings from the rubble with their hands, a young girl retrieving some notebooks.

“There are still people under the rubble,” said local resident Abu Jazar, 23. “We call on the Arab people and the world to put on pressure to stop the strikes on Gaza.”

At Rafah hospital, bereaved father Abu Jamaa was holding the body of his young daughter Sidal, who was killed by shrapnel.

He said there had been strong explosions overnight and that he only found she was dead when he tried to wake her in the morning.

“Even if I live 100 years, I will never find another like her,” he said, crying. “May God have mercy on her, oh Lord. May God have mercy on her.”

‘No water, no power, no bread’

Israel’s military said on Tuesday it had struck a rocket launch site in Jabalia near Gaza City from where missiles had been fired at the town of Sderot in southern Israel.

The army said it had also raided a Hamas compound and found hundreds of shells and rocket propelled grenade launchers, and struck as separate weapons factory.

The Israeli military said later Tuesday that 105 soldiers had died in the Gaza war, including 13 killed by friendly fire and others in accidents.

Fighting and heavy bombardment in the south, where Israel had previously urged civilians to seek safety, have left people with few places to go.

In central Gaza, Al-Aqsa hospital was inundated with victims Monday, including dozens of screaming children, after Israeli strikes on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp.

In Gaza City, thousands of Palestinians set up camp at a UN agency headquarters after nearby homes and shops were destroyed by Israeli strikes.

An AFP correspondent said both the Islamic and adjacent Al-Azhar universities had been reduced to rubble, as had the police station.

“There is no water. There is no electricity, no bread, no milk for the children, and no diapers,” said Rami al-Dahduh, 23, a tailor.

New UN meeting

The UN General Assembly was due to vote later Tuesday on a non-binding resolution demanding “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza — a call that the Security Council has so far failed to make.

The United States, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, used its veto on Friday to halt a draft text calling for a truce.

In a bid to build pressure, Arab countries called for the new special session of the General Assembly following a visit to the Rafah border by more than a dozen Security Council ambassadors.

The draft text, seen by AFP, largely reproduces the resolution blocked in the Council on Friday by the United States.

Fears of a wider conflict continue to grow, with Iran-backed groups targeting US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria, and daily exchanges of fire along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for a missile strike on a Norwegian-flagged tanker off Yemen, but no casualties were reported.

A drone and rockets targeted two military bases in Iraq and Syria on Monday housing forces of the international coalition against the Islamic State group, a US military official said.

Israeli bombardment killed an official in south Lebanon, the National News Agency said, amid near-daily cross-border exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah.