RAFAH, Palestinian Territories (AFP) – Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Monday that more than 5,000 people had been killed in the Palestinian enclave since Israel launched its withering bombing campaign in response to Hamas’s attack two weeks ago.
Alarm is growing over the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza as Israel struck back following the October 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed more than 1,400 people who were shot, stabbed or burnt to death by militants.
Israel also says Hamas forces seized 222 hostages in the worst attack in its 75-year history.
With the Israeli army saying it had conducted more than 300 new strikes within 24 hours, Gaza’s health ministry said the death toll had surged to over 5,000, including more than 2,000 children.
AFP has not been able to independently verify the figures.
Hamas said Monday that it had released two more women hostages, named Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper, for “compelling humanitarian” reasons following mediation by Qatar and Egypt. Images were shown on Egyptian media but Israel did not immediately comment.
Thousands of buildings have been levelled and more than a million people displaced in the besieged territory that has been largely deprived of water, food and other basic supplies after an Israeli blockade.
Twenty trucks carrying desperately needed aid arrived in Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt on Monday, the United Nations (UN)’s humanitarian agency said, the third convoy in three days.
Washington has promised a “continued flow” of relief goods into Gaza, which the UN says is facing “catastrophic” conditions that require the arrival of 100 aid trucks each day.
Overnight, Gaza’s Hamas-controlled government said “more than 60” people died in Israeli bombardments, including 17 in a single strike on a house in Gaza’s north and another 10 in the morning.
And with thousands more wounded, Gaza’s health ministry called on citizens “to immediately go to hospitals and blood banks to donate blood”.
The Israeli military said it had hit “over 320 military targets” overnight, and later said it had thwarted a cross-border Hamas drone attack.
In a post on social media, Hamas confirmed the drones had sought to attack army positions.
In the evening, Israel confirmed killing five Hamas militants, including those responsible for its “aerial” operations. Hamas had on October 7 used motorised gliders and other airborne methods to attack Israel.
Overnight, the army said a 19-year-old Israeli soldier had been killed and three others wounded during an operation on the outskirts of Gaza “to dismantle terror infrastructure… and locate missing persons and bodies”.
Meanwhile in southern Gaza, children killed in an Israeli air strike on the town of Khan Yunis were laid to rest in a makeshift grave on Monday as anguished family members looked on.
And at a packed UN school in the town, where thousands of displaced Palestinians were seeking shelter, staffers tried to distract traumatised youngsters by organising games, including one with a colourful silk parachute.
Figures from the Hamas government say more than 181,000 housing units have been damaged, of which 20,000 had been totally destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.
Thousands flee Lebanon border
Around the world, Israel’s friends and foes alike have warned against the Gaza war spilling over into a full-scale regional conflagration, with fears focused on its northern frontier where there have been increasing cross-border incidents with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group.
The pace of evacuations has increased on both sides of the border, with the UN saying nearly 20,000 people had fled villages in south Lebanon as the fighting rages.
At least 41 people have been killed in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally — mostly combatants but also at least four civilians, including a Reuters journalist. And four people have been killed in Israel, including three soldiers and a civilian.
Israel has also ordered the evacuation of thousands of people from a string of communities near its northern border but not everyone has left, with some refusing to go such as 62-year-old peach farmer Moshe Dadoush.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid. But I have to stay here,” he told AFP.
“I wouldn’t leave for one simple reason: it’s here where I grew up. I have nowhere else to go but this country.”
Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh on Monday accused Western nations of giving Israel a “licence to kill”, saying a ground invasion of Gaza would mean “more crimes, atrocities and forced displacement”.
US President Joe Biden and other leaders including Britain’s Rishi Sunak and Germany’s Olaf Scholz have visited Israel in recent days and affirmed its “right to defend” itself, while urging it to keep within international humanitarian law.
The UN’s rights chief Volker Turk called Monday for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” to ensure aid supplies, but the international community remains divided toward a potential halt to the fighting.
The US rejected calls for a ceasefire, saying it would benefit Hamas.
“We should have those hostages released and then we can talk,” Biden said when asked if he would support a “hostages-for-ceasefire” deal.
Also Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned against US military reinforcements in the Middle East, saying such external intervention risked causing an “escalation”.
Speaking in Tehran, Lavrov referred to the US deployment of warships to the region, saying “The more a state takes this kind of proactive measures, the greater the risk and the danger of an escalation of the conflict”.
Britain’s Sunak said London would send an additional £20 million (USD24 million) of aid to help Gaza civilians.
France’s Emmanuel Macron was due in Tel Aviv on Tuesday to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and discuss the “resumption of a genuine peace process” to create a Palestinian state.