Fire and smoke rises from buildings following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, on November 5, 2023. Image Credit: AP

DEIR AL BALAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli troops early Monday had surrounded Gaza City and cut off the northern part of the besieged Hamas-ruled territory as communications lost for several hours across Gaza overnight were being restored.

Troops are expected to enter the city Monday or Tuesday, Israeli media reported, and militants who have prepared for years are expected to fight street by street using a vast network of tunnels. Casualties will likely rise on both sides in the month-old war, which has already killed more than 9,700 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

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Some 1.5 million Palestinians, or around 70 per cent of the population, have fled their homes since the war began with a bloody Hamas incursion into Israel that killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Food, medicine, fuel and water are running low, and UN-run schools-turned-shelters are beyond capacity, with many sleeping on the streets outside.

Israel has so far rejected US suggestions for a pause in fighting to facilitate humanitarian aid deliveries and the release of some of the estimated 240 captives seized by Hamas in its October 7 raid. Israel has also dismissed calls for a broader ceasefire from increasingly alarmed Arab countries — including Jordan and Egypt, which made peace with it decades ago.

In another sign of widening unrest, a Palestinian man stabbed and wounded two members of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police in east Jerusalem before being shot dead, according to police and an Associated Press reporter at the scene.

Israeli tanks and soldiers stationed at a location in the northern Gaza Strip as battles rage. Image Credit: AFP

Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with Gaza and the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three territories for a future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognised by most of the international community and considers the entire city its capital.

A Jordanian military cargo plane air-dropped medical aid to a field hospital in northern Gaza, King Abdullah II said early Monday. It appeared to be the first such airdrop of the war, raising the possibility of another avenue for aid delivery besides Egypt’s Rafah crossing with Gaza.

The situation remains dire in the north. Some 800,000 people have heeded Israeli military orders to flee to southern Gaza, even though Israel had continued airstrikes in the area. Strikes in central and southern Gaza — the purported safe zone — killed at least 53 people on Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands remain in Gaza City and other parts of the north. Some 2,000 people, many carrying only what they could hold in their arms, walked down Gaza’s main north-south highway on Sunday during an hourslong window in which the military had encouraged them to flee.

One man said they walked 500 metres (yards) with their hands raised while passing Israeli troops. Another described seeing bodies along the road. “The children saw tanks for the first time. Oh world, have mercy on us,” said one Palestinian man, who declined to give his name.

‘Significant stage’

A majority of Gaza’s population are the descendants of Palestinian refugees who fled or were driven out of Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. Palestinians refer to their exodus as the Nakba, or catastrophe, and many fear a repeat as hundreds of thousands are displaced by the latest war.

The Israeli military said late Sunday that it had severed northern Gaza from the south, calling it a “significant stage” in the war. It said a one-way corridor for residents to flee south would remain available.

The military says 30 troops have been killed since the ground offensive began over a week ago. Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, disrupting daily life even as most are intercepted or fall in open areas. Tens of thousands of Israelis have evacuated from communities near the volatile borders with Gaza and Lebanon.

Israeli soldiers take part in a military action at a location given as Gaza in this screengrab obtained from a handout video released on November 6, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

The military said Monday that aircraft struck 450 targets overnight and took over a Hamas compound. It also said it had killed a senior Hamas militant, identified as Jamal Moussa, who had allegedly carried out a shooting attack against Israeli soldiers in Gaza in 1993.

Communications in Gaza went down late Sunday for the third time in the war, according to the internet access advocacy group and the Palestinian telecom company Paltel. Aid workers say the outages make it even harder for civilians to seek safety or even call ambulances.

The first Gaza outage lasted 36 hours, coinciding with the ground invasion, and the second one for a few hours. Paltel and NetBlocks said mobile phone and internet service was restored on Monday.

Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals are running low. Gaza’s sole power station was forced to shut down shortly after the war broke out and Israel has allowed no fuel to enter, saying Hamas would steal it for military purposes.

Northern Gaza is facing a severe water shortage, as there is no fuel to pump from municipal wells and Israel shut off the region’s main line. The UN office for humanitarian affairs said seven water facilities across Gaza were struck over the last two days and sustained “major damage,” raising the risk of sewage flooding. Israel has restored two water pipelines in central and southern Gaza, the UN said.

Over 450 trucks carrying food, water, medicine and other basic aid have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since October 21, but aid workers say it’s insufficient to meet mounting needs in the territory, which is home to some 2.3 million Palestinians.

The war has stoked wider tensions, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group trading fire along the border.

Four civilians were killed by an Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon late Sunday, including three children, a local civil defence official and state-run media reported. The Israeli military said it had attacked Hezbollah targets in response to anti-tank fire that killed an Israeli civilian. Hezbollah said it fired Grad rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel in response.