DEIR AL BALAH, Gaza Strip: Thousands of people broke into aid warehouses in Gaza to take food and “basic survival items,” a UN agency said Sunday, in a mark of growing desperation and the breakdown of public order three weeks into the war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.
Tanks and infantry pushed into Gaza over the weekend as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a “second stage” in the war, three weeks after Hamas launched a brutal incursion into Israel. The widening ground offensive came as Israel pounded the territory from air, land and sea.
The bombardment — described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war — knocked out most communications in the territory late Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world. Communications were restored to many people in Gaza early Sunday, according to local telecoms companies, Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, provides basic services to hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza. Its schools across the territory have been transformed into packed shelters housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict. Israel has allowed only a small trickle of aid to enter from Egypt, some of which was stored in one of the warehouses that was broken into, UNRWA said.
Thomas White, the agency’s Gaza director, said the break-ins were “a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza. People are scared, frustrated and desperate,” he said.
Residents living near Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, said Israeli airstrikes overnight Sunday hit near the hospital complex and blocked many roads leading to it. Israel accuses Hamas of having a secret command post beneath the hospital, without providing much evidence.
Tens of thousands of civilians are sheltering in Shifa, which is also packed with patients wounded in the strikes.
“Reaching the hospital has become increasingly difficult,” Mahmoud Al Sawah, who is sheltering in the hospital, said over the phone. “It seems they want to cut off the area.” Another Gaza City resident, Abdullah Sayed, said the Israeli bombing over the past two days was “the most violent and intense” since the war started.
Israel says most residents have heeded its orders to flee to the south, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones.
10 from one family killed
An Israeli airstrike hit a two-story house in the southern city of Khan Younis on Sunday, killing at least 13 people, including 10 from one family. The bodies were brought to the nearby Nasser Hospital, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about reports of strikes near Shifa. The army said it had struck over 450 militant targets over the last 24 hours, including Hamas command centres, observation posts and anti-tank missile launching positions.
The military also said more forces were sent into Gaza overnight.
The army recently released computer-generated images showing what it said were Hamas installations in and around Shifa Hospital, as well as interrogations of captured Hamas fighters who might have been speaking under duress. Israel has made similar claims before, but has not substantiated them.
Little is known about Hamas’ tunnels and other infrastructure, and the claims could not be independently verified. Hamas’ government dismissed the allegations as “lies” and said they were “a precursor for striking this facility.”
The escalation ratcheted up domestic pressure on Israel’s government to secure the release of some 230 hostages seized in the October 7 rampage, when Hamas fighters from Gaza breached Israel’s defenses and stormed into nearby towns, gunning down civilians and soldiers in a surprise attack.
Desperate family members met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehia Sinwar, said Palestinian militants “are ready immediately” to release all hostages if Israel releases all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, dismissed the offer as “psychological terror.”