Israel intensifies bombardment of Gaza

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Israel intensifies bombardment of Gaza
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Israel intensified its deadly bombardment of the Gaza Strip Saturday as renewed fighting with Hamas entered a second day following the collapse of a weeklong cease-fire.

Israeli military officials said Saturday more than 50 Hamas targets in the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza were pounded by aerial, naval and ground forces. The military said that it carried out strikes in the north and that more than 400 targets in Gaza have been hit since fighting resumed two days ago.

Saturday's violence came a day after Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave killed 184 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

In Syria, the Defense Ministry said Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus early Saturday. Syrian state media reported that military defenses shot down most of the Israeli missiles. It said there were no reports of casualties.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that Israel has begun to take steps to reduce Palestinian casualties in its fight against Hamas.

"We saw Israel take steps immediately today to start to get information to people about where safe areas are, how they can get out of harm's way," he said in Dubai on the sidelines of the COP28 climate change conference.

However, Blinken said it was too early to say whether Israel had fully followed through on commitments it had made to ensure its military operation in southern Gaza does not lead to the same high death tolls seen in northern Gaza.

Israel's airstrikes and ground invasion in Gaza, aimed at eradicating Hamas, have killed more than 15,000 people, with thousands more injured, according to Palestinian health authorities.

While in Dubai, Blinken met with his counterparts from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, along with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Israeli soldiers embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, near kibbutz Re'im, on Dec. 1, 2023.

Israeli soldiers embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, near kibbutz Re'im, on Dec. 1, 2023.

Blinken is on his third trip to the Middle East since Israel declared war against Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, after it launched terror attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting an estimated 240, about 100 of whom have been released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners during the just-ended seven-day truce.

The talks with Arab foreign ministers centered on the state of the Israel-Hamas war and how to deliver more humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, Blinken told reporters before boarding a flight back to Washington.

He said they also talked about "what happens the day after in Gaza and how we can get on the path to a just, lasting and secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians, in fact for everyone in the region."

The U.N. said the fighting would exacerbate an acute humanitarian emergency.

"Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza," said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva.

"Today those in power decided that the killing of children would recommence in Gaza," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said via video link from Rafah, Gaza, calling the conflict a "war on children."

Elder stressed the dire lack of nutrition, water and sanitation in Gaza and pleaded for a lasting cease-fire. He said the alternative is unthinkable for people already living in a nightmare.

"Inaction, at its core, is an approval of the killing of children," he said.

A Palestinian evacuates a wounded child during an Israeli bombardment of Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Dec. 1, 2023.

A Palestinian evacuates a wounded child during an Israeli bombardment of Rafah, Gaza Strip, on Dec. 1, 2023.

Israel plans Gaza DMZ

Meanwhile, Israel has presented some of its neighboring states with plans to carve out a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of Gaza's border with Israel to avert future attacks after the war ends, Reuters reported citing Egyptian and regional sources.

Israel has communicated its post-war plans to Egypt and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as part of its future security goals for Gaza, sources told the news agency.

Ophir Falk, foreign policy adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters the Israeli government has a three-tiered plan for post-war Gaza: destroying Hamas, demilitarizing Gaza and de-radicalizing the enclave.

"A buffer zone may be part of the demilitarization process," Falk said, although he did not say whether these plans had been shared with international partners, including Arab states.

Arab states have dismissed as impossible Israel's goal of wiping out Hamas, saying it was more than simply a militant force that could be defeated.

Blinken said last month that Washington wants Palestinians to govern Gaza and does not want to see the territory reoccupied by Israel, blockaded or reduced in size.

World reaction

Israel and Hamas have blamed each other for the breakdown of the negotiations to extend the weeklong truce, although the White House singled out Hamas, noting it had failed to produce a new list of hostages to release as required.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Emirati counterpart, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai that the resumption of Israeli attacks on Gaza was "very negative," Erdogan's office said Friday.

Turkey said in a statement that it was working to achieve a lasting cease-fire, but that the Muslim world needed to act in unison.

"While discussing the climate crisis, we cannot ignore the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Palestinian territories right beside us," Erdogan told leaders during his formal speech to the COP28 conference.

"The current situation in Gaza constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity; those responsible must be held accountable under international law," he said.

Israeli released hostage Bilal Al-Ziyadne, left, reunites with his family at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, Israel, on Dec. 1, 2023. (GPO via AP)

Israeli released hostage Bilal Al-Ziyadne, left, reunites with his family at Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva, Israel, on Dec. 1, 2023. (GPO via AP)

Erdogan's comments were echoed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani.

"Continuous bombardment of Gaza complicates mediation efforts and exacerbates [the] humanitarian catastrophe," the Qatari minister said.

Egypt also is exerting the utmost effort with its partners to reinstate the truce in Gaza as soon as possible, according to a statement from Diaa Rashwan, the head of Egypt's State Information Service.

However, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas understands only force "and therefore we will continue to act until we achieve the goals of the war." He spoke while riding in one of Israel's warplanes to observe the assault. "The results are impressive," he said.

At a pro-Israel conference in the U.S. city of Denver, Colorado, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, said Israel is in a fight for its survival.

"We are in a fight against pure evil, sheer evil, evil that whether it calls itself Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS or al-Qaida shares the same hegemonic goal of spreading its radical ideology and defeating Western civilization through barbaric terror and violence," he said.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis also spoke at the conference.

"There's a lot of pain. It's made worse by the fact that we are seeing the rise of antisemitism and hate in America, across the world, the antisemitic demons of old that we all hoped had been vanquished now fueled by social media being used to amplify dangerous rhetoric and misinformation," he said.

In Washington, pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a prayer vigil and rally outside the Israeli Embassy.

In Atlanta, a protester with a Palestinian flag self-immolated Friday outside the Israeli Consulate, injuring a security guard who attempted to intervene and put out the fire, authorities said. The protester was in critical condition Friday night.


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