Middle East Crisis
Southern Gaza in Israel’s sights as world leaders seek pause in fighting
GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Israel's military intensified its bombing of southern Gaza overnight after one of the deadliest days for Palestinians since the conflict began, amid international calls for a pause in fighting to let aid into the enclave and prevent many more deaths.
Health officials in Gaza said on Wednesday that dozens more people had been killed in the south, where hundreds of thousands fled after Israel warned them it would attack the north in its bid to wipe out Hamas militants who mounted a killing spree in Israel on Oct. 7.
One strike brought down several apartment buildings in Khan Younis. “This is something not normal, we have not heard something like this before,” resident Khader Abu Odah said.
Palestinian anger over the killings has been increased by a sense of betrayal as many of those who obeyed the order to move south are also being killed. The Israeli military says that Hamas, which rules Gaza, has entrenched itself among the civilian population everywhere.
Israel said strikes on Gaza over the previous 24 hours had eliminated Hamas operatives including the head of the Hamas battalion for southern Khan Younis, Tayseer Bebasher.
Tunnel shafts, command centres, weapons caches and launch positions were targeted, as well as a cell of Hamas divers trying to enter Israel by sea near Kibbutz Zikim, the military added.
In Gaza City in the north, rescue workers pulled an apparently lifeless young child out of rubble before trying to calm an agitated, partially buried man crying out his family’s names.
“They are OK, I swear,” one rescuer said in video footage from the scene.
FIGHTING IN LEBANON, SYRIA FUELS REGION’S FEARS
Israeli jets also struck Syrian army infrastructure in response to rockets launched from Syria, an ally of Iran, the Israeli military said, fuelling concerns that its conflict with Hamas, also backed by Iran, will ignite the wider region.
Syria’s state news agency said the Israeli attack killed eight soldiers and wounded seven more near the southwestern city of Deraa.
Israel did not accuse Syria’s army of firing the two rockets, which set off air raid sirens in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, giving no details on the suspected perpetrators.
Iran, which has sought regional ascendancy for decades and backs armed groups in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere as well as Hamas, has warned Israel to stop its onslaught on Gaza.
Israeli forces hit five squads in Lebanon preparing anti-armour missile attacks or rocket launches, spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.
Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group said four more of its fighters had been killed, increasing the death toll in its ranks to 42 since the start of the conflict.
CALLS FOR HUMANITARIAN PAUSE
The United States and Russia are leading international calls for a pause in fighting between Israel and Hamas to allow aid into Gaza, where living conditions are harrowing.
Limited deliveries of food, medicine and water from Egypt restarted on Saturday through Rafah, the only crossing not controlled by Israel, which announced it had sealed off the coastal enclave for good after this month’s attack from Hamas.
Another 20 trucks crossed late on Tuesday after delays, but U.N. agencies said more than 20 times as much were needed for the narrow coastal strip’s 2.3 million people, who depend heavily on aid even in peacetime.
Washington wants short pauses to allow aid in while Russia advocates a wider truce. Israel has so far resisted both, arguing that Hamas would only take advantage and create new threats to its civilians.
Israel launched the strikes on Gaza after Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli towns on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking more than 200 people hostage.
A total of 704 Palestinians, including 305 children, were killed on Tuesday, the health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it was the highest reported single-day death toll of the conflict.
Clashes have also intensified between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, killing more than 100 Palestinians, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Gaza’s health ministry said on Tuesday at least 5,791 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli bombardments on the enclave since Oct. 7, including 2,360 children.
GAZA HOSPITALS RUNNING OUT OF FUEL
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said more than one-third of hospitals in Gaza and nearly two-thirds of primary health clinics had shut due to damage or lack of fuel.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, warned that it would have to halt operations in Gaza on Wednesday night if supplies of fuel were not allowed in as it would run out.
However, the Israeli military on Tuesday reaffirmed it would bar the entry of fuel to prevent Hamas from seizing it.
Qatari mediators are urging Hamas to quicken the pace of hostage releases to include women and children, and without Israeli concessions, three diplomats and a source familiar with the talks said.
The Gulf state, in coordination with the U.S., is leading mediation talks with Hamas and Israel over the hostage release.
Hamas has so far released four hostages – a mother and daughter with dual U.S.-Israel nationality on Friday and two Israeli civilian women on Monday.
By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Emily Rose, Andrew Mills, Michelle Nichols, Humeyra Pamuk; Writing by Grant McCool, Michael Perry and Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Howard Goller, Cynthia Osterman, Miral Fahmy and Kevin Liffey)