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Palestinians starve as Gaza war rages amid fears of exodus into Egypt

Published 12/10/2023, 09:39 PM
Updated 12/11/2023, 06:49 PM
© Reuters. People walk near tent camps where displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, take shelter in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, December 9, 2023. R

By Bassam Masoud and Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA/CAIRO (Reuters) -Israel on Monday denied it intended to push Palestinians seeking refuge from its bombardment of Gaza over the border into Egypt as international relief agencies said hunger was spreading among the besieged enclave's civilian population.

Amid the worsening humanitarian crisis, Hamas fighters and Israeli troops fought across the territory, with the militants trying to block Israeli tanks from advancing through the shattered streets.

The Gaza health ministry said 18,205 people had now been killed and 49,645 wounded in Gaza in just over two months of warfare - hundreds since the United States vetoed a proposal for a ceasefire at the United Nations Security Council on Friday.

Most of Gaza's 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge or food in the densely populated coastal enclave.

One Palestinian told Reuters he had not eaten for three days and had to beg for bread for his children.

"I pretend to be strong but I am afraid I will collapse in front of them at any moment," he said by telephone, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.

UNRWA, the U.N. body responsible for Palestinian refugees, said some people were arriving at its health centres and shelters carrying their dead children.

"We are on the verge of collapse," it said on X.

Over the weekend U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he feared a mass displacement into Egypt and UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini said that pushing Gazans closer to the border pointed to attempts to move them over it.

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Jordan also accused Israel of seeking "to empty Gaza of its people". The border with Egypt is the only way out of Gaza at present, but Cairo has warned it will not allow Gazans into its territory, fearing they would not be able to return.

The Israeli government on Monday denied this was its aim. Spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation "outrageous and false" and said his country was defending itself from the "monsters" who attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

In that raid, the deadliest in Israel's history, Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 have since been freed.

The Hamas attack triggered an Israeli retaliatory assault and brought the bloodiest period of warfare of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.

'ENOUGH IS ENOUGH'

U.N. officials say 1.9 million people - 85% of Gaza's population - are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.

Gazans said people forced to flee repeatedly were dying of hunger and cold as well as the bombardments, describing looting of aid trucks and sky high prices. The U.N. World Food Programme has said half of the population is starving.

Israel says its instructions to people to move are among measures to protect the population.

U.N. Security Council envoys spoke of unimaginable suffering and urged an end to the war when they visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Monday.

Asked by reporters if he had a message to nations that opposed a ceasefire in Gaza, China's United Nations envoy Zhang Jun said simply: "Enough is enough."

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Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday Israel had no intention of staying permanently in the Gaza Strip and it was open to discussing alternatives about who would control the territory, as long as it was not a group hostile to Israel.

"Israel will take any measures in order to destroy Hamas, but we have no intention to stay permanently in the Gaza Strip. We only take care of our security and the security of our citizens alongside the border with Gaza," Gallant told reporters.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 and has sworn to destroy Israel. Israel accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid, which Hamas denies. Israel has prevented most aid from moving into Gaza, saying it fears it will just fuel Hamas attacks.

Israel said on Monday it would begin screening aid bound for Gaza at the Kerem Shalom crossing, but was not opening the crossing itself, where most trucks entering the strip passed before the war. Two Egyptian security sources said inspections would begin on Tuesday under a new system agreed between Israel, Egypt and the United States.

After the collapse of a week-long ceasefire on Dec. 1, Israel began a ground offensive in the south and has since pushed from the east into the heart of Khan Younis city, with warplanes attacking an area to the west.

CLASHES IN NORTHERN GAZA

On Monday, militants and residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving farther west and clashing with Israeli forces in northern Gaza, where Israel had said its mission was largely complete.

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Israel said dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered and urged others to join them. The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired rockets towards Tel Aviv, where Israelis fled to shelters.

The Gaza health ministry said 32 Palestinians were killed in Khan Younis overnight. Hamas said its fighters had hit two Israeli tanks with rockets and fired mortars at Israeli forces.

Militants and residents said fighting was also fierce in Shejaia, east of the centre of Gaza City, the northwestern Sheikh Radwan district and Jabalia farther north.

In central Gaza, where Israel told people to move on Monday towards shelters in the Deir al-Balah area, health officials said the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital had received 40 dead.

Residents reported exchanges of fire near the coastal road and Hamas media said fighters foiled an attempt by Israeli naval forces to make a landing of forces offshore.

Israeli bombing continued into the night on Monday, residents and health officials said. Medics said Israeli air strikes killed at least 15 people in separate strikes in the central and southern Gaza strip.

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