Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Israeli planes strike near Gaza’s largest hospital

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Deir Al-Balah (Gaza Strip), Oct 29: Israeli warplanes carried out airstrikes early on Sunday near Gaza’s largest hospital, which is packed with patients and tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter, residents said.
Israel has said Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers have a command post under the hospital, without providing much evidence.
The strikes came a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a “second stage” in Israel’s war on Hamas, three weeks after Hamas launched a brutal incursion into Israel October 7.
Tanks and infantry pushed into Gaza over the weekend in what officials described as a widening ground offensive as Israel pounded the territory from air, land and sea.
The bombardment – described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war – knocked out most communications in the territory late Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world.
Communications were restored to many people in Gaza early on Sunday, according to local telecoms companies, Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground.
Residents said the latest airstrikes destroyed most of the roads leading to Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, in the northern part of the besieged territory.
Israel says most residents have heeded its orders to flee to the south, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones.
Tens of thousands are sheltering in Shifa, which is also packed with patients wounded in the strikes.
“Reaching the hospital has become increasingly difficult,” Mahmoud al-Sawah, who is sheltering in the hospital, said over the phone. “It seems they want to cut off the area.”
Another Gaza City resident, Abdallah Sayed, said the Israeli bombing over the past two days was “the most violent and intense” since the war started.
The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about reports of strikes near Shifa.
The army recently released computer-generated images showing what it said were Hamas installations in and around Shifa Hospital, as well as interrogations of captured Hamas fighters who might have been speaking under duress. Israel has made similar claims before, but has not substantiated them.
Little is known about Hamas’ tunnels and other infrastructure, and the claims could not be independently verified.
Hamas’ government dismissed the allegations as “lies” and said they were “a precursor for striking this facility.”
On Saturday, the Israeli military released grainy images showing tank columns moving slowly in open areas of Gaza, apparently near the border, and said warplanes had bombed dozens of Hamas tunnels and underground bunkers.
The escalation ratcheted up domestic pressure on Israel’s government to secure the release of some 230 hostages seized in the October 7 rampage, when Hamas fighters from Gaza breached Israel’s defences and stormed into nearby towns, gunning down civilians and soldiers in a surprise attack.
Desperate family members met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehia Sinwar, said Palestinian militants “are ready immediately” to release all hostages if Israel releases all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, dismissed the offer as “psychological terror.”
Netanyahu told the nationally televised news conference that Israel is determined to bring back all the hostages, and maintained that the expanding ground operation “will help us in this mission.”
The Israeli prime minister said he couldn’t reveal everything that is being done due to the sensitivity and secrecy of the efforts. (AP)

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