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In Israel, Blinken looks to plan for post-war Gaza as bombardment, fighting continue to rage

In World
January 09, 2024

On Tuesday, Hezbollah said its exploding drones targeted the Israeli army northern command in the town of Safed – deeper into Israel than previous fire by the group. The Israeli military said a drone fell at a base in the north without causing damage, suggesting it had been intercepted. It did not identify the base.

“There is lots to talk about, in particular about the way forward,” Blinken said after meeting Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

The United States has pressed Israel to scale down its offensive in Gaza to more precise operations targeting Hamas.

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But the pace of death and destruction has remained largely the same, with several hundred Palestinians killed a day, according to health officials in Gaza. Israel has vowed to keep going until it has destroyed Hamas throughout the territory, in response to the October 7 attack during which militants killed some 1,200 people, mainly civilians, in southern Israel and kidnapped around 250 others.

Still, after three months of fighting, Hamas continues to put up a fierce fight.

The Israeli military says it has dismantled Hamas infrastructure in northern Gaza, where large swathes of the cityscape have been demolished. But fighting continues there against what Israel says are pockets of militants.

The offensive’s focus has shifted to the southern city of Khan Younis, where ground troops have been fighting militants for weeks, and a number of urban refugee camps in central Gaza.

“The fighting will continue throughout 2024,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

Since the war began, Israel’s assault in Gaza has killed more than 23,200 Palestinians, roughly 1 per cent of the territory’s population, and more than 58,000 have been wounded, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. About two thirds of the dead of women and children. The death toll does not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Throughout the night and into Tuesday morning, warplanes struck multiple areas in and around Khan Younis and in central Gaza, where 57 dead and dozens of wounded were brought into the main hospital in the town of Deir al-Balah.

One strike late Monday hit a house in Deir al-Balah, killing the mother, three daughters and three small grandchildren of Jamal Naeim, a well-known dentist in Gaza. Outside the hospital, Naeim cradled a small bundle of white cloth the size of an infant containing all that was left of one of his adult daughters, Shaimaa, who was also a dentist.

Palestinians walk through rubble as they survey the damage to residential buildings following an Israeli air strike in a refugee camp west of Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on Sunday. Photo: Bloomberg

“This is Dr. Shaimaa, 27 years old. This is what we found of her, just the skin of her head and her hair,” he said, breaking into sobs. Naeim is the brother of Bassem Naeim, a political figure in Hamas, but is not a member of the group himself, residents said.

Israeli troops have been pushing into several urban refugee camps near Deir al-Balah, fighting with militants and pounding the densely built districts with heavy air strikes and shelling. The camps were built to house Palestinians driven out of homes during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation, and over time grew into towns.

Monday was one of the deadliest days yet for Israeli troops in Gaza with nine killed, according to the military. Six of them died in a blast that went off when forces were bringing explosives into an underground area in Bureij camp, apparently to blow up Hamas tunnels, Israeli media reported. The military declined to comment. The military says 185 soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began in late October.

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Nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been driven from their homes by the fighting, and a quarter of its residents face starvation, with only a trickle of food, water, medicine and other supplies entering through an Israeli siege.

The UN humanitarian office, known as OCHA, warned that the fighting was severely hampering aid deliveries. Several warehouses, distribution centres, health facilities and shelters have been affected by the military’s evacuation orders, it said. Some bakeries in the central city of Deir al-Balah have been forced to shut down. A UN warehouse was hit last week, killing a staffer, and five other staffers were detained by the military, with two still held.

The situation is even more dire in northern Gaza, which Israeli forces cut off from the rest of the territory in late October. Tens of thousands of people who remain there face shortages of food and water.

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The World Health Organization has been unable to deliver supplies to the north for two weeks. OCHA said the military rejected five attempted aid convoys to the north over that period, including planned deliveries of medical supplies and fuel for water and sanitation facilities.

As Blinken arrived in Israel, exchanges between Israel and Hezbollah continued their spiral since last week’s killing of Hamas deputy leader Saleh Arouri in Beirut.

Hezbollah said its drone strike on the base in northern Israel on Tuesday was further retaliation for the killing of Arouri and of a senior Hezbollah commander in an Israeli bombing Monday.

Tuesday morning, an Israeli drone hit a car in southern Lebanon, killing three people inside, security officials in the area and the state news agency said. There was no immediate word on the identities of the three.

Israel has repeatedly warned that time is running out before it launches a campaign to end militants’ fire across the border.

US officials have said they expect Blinken’s discussions with Netanyahu, the War Cabinet and other officials to be some of the most difficult on his current Mideast tour, his fourth since the war began,

Blinken said on Monday that Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey agreed to begin planning for the reconstruction and governance of Gaza once Israel’s war against Hamas ends. Those countries previously resisted US calls for post-war planning to begin, insisting that there must first be a ceasefire and a sharp reduction in the civilian suffering in Gaza.

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