GAZA/JERUSALEM — Israel intensified its bombing of southern Gaza overnight, with officials in the Hamas-run enclave saying record numbers had been killed again, as violence flared elsewhere in the region and a showdown loomed at the United Nations over desperately needed aid.
Many of those killed were in the south, Gaza health officials said on Wednesday (Oct 25), where hundreds of thousands fled after Israel warned them it would attack the north to wipe out Hamas after its killing spree in Israel on Oct 7.
The Palestinian death toll now exceeds 6,500, they said.
One strike brought down several apartment buildings in Khan Younis. “This is something not normal, we have not heard something like this before,” said Mr Khader Abu Odah, one of many stunned residents waiting for an excavator to lift rubble so they could look for survivors.
Palestinian anger over the deaths 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 took control in Gaza in 2005, 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, it said.
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. The strike fuelled concerns that its war with Hamas, also backed by Iran, will ignite the wider region.
Syrian state media said Israel had killed eight soldiers and wounded seven more near the southwestern city of Deraa, and hit Aleppo’s airport, already out of action.
Israel did not accuse the Syrian army of launching rockets but is suspicious of Iran, its arch-enemy.
Iran has sought regional ascendancy for decades and backs armed groups in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere as well as Hamas. It has warned Israel to stop its onslaught on Gaza.
Israel said its forces hit five squads in Lebanon preparing attacks. Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group said 42 of its fighters had been killed since the start of the conflict, which has spread fear among civilians on both sides of the border.
“The war is being waged at the border. Maybe it’s not our turn yet but you don’t know what will happen in a few days. You just wait,” said Ms Rabab Yousef, a 57-year-old mother who lost a daughter under the rubble of an Israeli air strike in 2006.
TEMPERS FRAY OVER AID CALLS
The United States and Russia are leading rival calls at the UN for a pause in fighting 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.
UN agencies say more than 20 times as much are needed by the narrow coastal strip’s 2.3 million people, even in peacetime.
In proposals the UN Security Council was expected to consider on Wednesday, Washington is seeking short pauses to allow aid in while Russia advocates a wider truce. Israel has 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, slaughtering 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 222 people hostage.
Gaza’s health ministry said at least 6,546 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli bombardments on the enclave since Oct 7, including 2,704 children. Of the total, 756 had been killed in the previous 24 hours, half of them children, it said — even more than the 704 it reported on Tuesday.
Clashes have also intensified in the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military has killed more than 100 Palestinians, the Palestinian health ministry said.
GAZA HOSPITALS RUNNING OUT OF FUEL
The UN 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 UN agency for Palestinian refugees, warned that it would have to halt operations in Gaza on Wednesday night if it did not get supplies of fuel. The Israeli military said Hamas had seized fuel and should be asked to hand it over.
Qatar, which is leading mediation talks in coordination with the US, urged both sides to de-escalate and warned that an Israeli ground assault on the densely populated enclave would make freeing hostages “much more difficult”.
Hamas has so far released a mother and daughter with dual US-Israel nationality and two Israeli women.
Mr Yosi Shnaider, whose cousin Shiri Bibes is still being held by Hamas along with her nine-month-old baby Kfir and Ariel, 4, said the releases gave him and other relatives hope. REUTERS