Israel-Gaza briefings: No let-up for Gazans while world focused on Iran attack

  • By Yolande Knell
  • BBC News, Jerusalem

While media attention in the Middle East was diverted last week to Iran’s dramatic missile and drone attack on Israel, the fighting in Gaza has not stopped.

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed every day, including many children, according to figures from the Hamas-run Health Ministry. He now claims that Israel has killed more than 34,000 people in Gaza since the war began.

As Israeli forces continue their efforts to destroy Hamas, they have carried out small-scale, often deadly operations up and down the territory over the past week.

In the middle of Gaza on Tuesday, relatives holding the limp, bloodstained bodies of little boys and girls rushed from the al-Maghazi refugee camp to the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital near Deir al-Balah.

Hospital doctors said at least 12 people were killed and around 30 others injured by the shelling in al-Maghazi.

“They were playing in the street. Why were they beaten? They were not near Israeli forces,” one man told the BBC. Another added: “They were just playing. They were at the market with people who would normally come and go.”

The Israeli military has not commented on what happened there, but this week in Gaza the central refugee camps have been its main target. It said it was “eliminating terrorists and destroying terrorist infrastructure” such as attack tunnels and military complexes used by armed Hamas fighters in “precise” actions.

After Israeli forces reportedly left another camp, Nuseirat, on Wednesday evening, residents began returning to inspect the damage to their homes.

Legend, Much of the Nuseirat camp has been reduced to ruins

“We have no place to stay, 90% of the houses are destroyed,” a father told us desperately as he made his way through the new piles of rubble.

In the far north of Gaza, Israeli tanks returned to Beit Hanoun, which troops had left weeks earlier. Israel said it was targeting Hamas and Islamic Jihad members based in schools where displaced families lived. Residents spoke of men being stripped naked and detained.

Footage was also released showing Israeli strikes in parts of the northern Gaza City and Rafah on the border with Egypt, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are living in tents after fleeing fighting. elsewhere.

Israeli defense analysts say the army is carrying out targeted operations against Hamas, in line with a shift to lower-intensity fighting agreed with the United States.

Earlier this month, Israel withdrew most of its ground forces from Gaza, leaving only a single brigade to secure a line that divides the enclave into two parts – the north and the south.

Although it has since been announced that two brigades of reservists would be mobilized and soldiers deployed across the border, the prevailing view is that a planned ground offensive in Rafah is still some way off.

“I don’t think anything is imminent,” says Professor Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security adviser now based at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. “I don’t think there is the force there to carry out a major operation in Rafah.”

Israel has promised to eliminate the last Hamas battalions in Rafah, the only town in Gaza where it has not yet launched a ground offensive. He estimates that some of the approximately 130 remaining hostages kidnapped in southern Israel during the deadly Hamas attacks on October 7, which also killed more than 1,200 people, are being held there.

But Professor Freilich believes that for “the full-scale attack that people were talking about, it would take two things: evacuate all the refugees and then call up part of these reserves.”

“Between those, it’s been at least two weeks. And now there’s the (week-long) holiday of Passover.”

The United States and other allies stress that a full-scale invasion could worsen an already dire humanitarian crisis.

Amid miserable living conditions and the constant threat to Rafah, many Gazans stayed there for a long time before returning home to the north of the territory.

Legend, Israeli army warns Palestinians not to return to their homes in northern Gaza

But on Monday, the Israeli military renewed its warning not to make the trip, a day after witnesses said its forces opened fire on crowds heading along a main coastal road. killing five people.

The Israeli military did not comment directly on the incident, but an Israeli military spokesperson later said that Palestinians should remain in southern Gaza because the north is a “dangerous combat zone.”

“We have dreamed of returning home since we left, in the first months of the war,” Amr Daoudi told us in Rafah. “But for now, we’ve put him out of our thoughts.”

More than six months of fighting have razed large areas of the north. Israel’s restrictions on aid have also left some 300,000 people left behind during the war on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.

International pressure on Israel following the killing of seven aid workers from the US charity World Central Kitchen on April 1 has led to a series of announcements aimed at increasing aid to Gaza, including opening the commercial port of Ashdod and a new passage to the north.

As aid concerns were overshadowed last week by fears of a broader regional war, there were constant updates on developments – Israeli defense officials said arrival of flour shipments intended for bakeries which have just reopened, for example.

Anecdotal evidence, including images posted on social media showing grilled meat being sold in the Jabalia camp for the first time in months, has also circulated, suggesting that food is becoming more readily available.

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, Palestinians at a food distribution point in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza

However, aid agencies say much more needs to be done to address critical shortages.

As the UN launched a flash appeal to raise $2.8 billion (£2.3 billion), mainly for Gaza, a senior official in its humanitarian office complained of persistent access problems, saying especially to reach the north.

“We’re dealing with this dance where we take one step forward, two steps back; or two steps forward and one step back,” says Andrea de Domenico, who heads the United Nations humanitarian office for the Palestinian territories.

While Israel’s response to recent Iranian strikes is now over, drawing a line under the latest round of violence between these two old enemies, the media and foreign actors will likely once again intensify their monitoring of what is happening in Gaza.

We had already had a hint of this when the British Foreign Minister, David Cameron, came to express his solidarity with Israel and try to ease tensions after the Iranian attacks of April 13 and 14.

“The real need is to refocus on Hamas, on the hostages, on the return of aid, on a pause in the conflict in Gaza,” he said, ahead of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. .

For now, international mediation efforts aimed at securing a new truce have largely stalled.

The main obstacle is that Israel will discuss a temporary halt to repatriating the hostages but will not stop fighting until Hamas is eliminated. Hamas says it will not release the hostages without finding a solution to end the war.

For ordinary Gazans struggling just to survive and Israelis desperate to bring home their loved ones trapped in captivity, the best hope may now come from a new diplomatic push.

Without it, there is the threat of persistent war that would come at a huge cost to humanity and constantly risk triggering new destabilizing conflicts in an already unstable part of the world.

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