Israel strikes southern Gaza as Blinken heads to Egypt for talks

Israel bombarded the southern Gaza Strip overnight, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to travel to Egypt on Thursday for more talks aimed at containing Israel’s war against Hamas.

The diplomat was set to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo, a day after talks with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmud Abbas, who “committed” to reforming the body to potentially reunite Gaza and the occupied West Bank under its leadership after the war, Blinken said.

The Middle East trip, his fourth aimed at preventing the conflict’s spread, coincided with a UN Security Council resolution on Wednesday demanding an “immediate” end to attacks in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Huthi rebels carried out in solidarity with Hamas.

It also comes as Israel was set to face accusations brought by South Africa at the UN’s top court on Thursday that it has committed “genocidal” acts in Gaza, charges both Israel and Blinken have dismissed as baseless.

Hamas’s press office said early Thursday that 62 people had been killed in strikes overnight, including around Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Yunis.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said in his evening briefing the night before that forces were continuing “to act decisively above and below ground” in the area.

Earlier in the day, the army said that troops east of the city had found “tunnel shafts, tunnel routes, and numerous weapons and materials”, and killed “dozens of terrorists”.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said an Israeli strike on an ambulance in central Gaza killed four medics and two other passengers on Wednesday.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment on the incident when contacted by AFP.

In Deir al-Balah, also in central Gaza, people wounded in a strike at a nearby school were brought to the Al-Aqsa hospital.

“There are injured people at the school since last night, no cars or ambulances are reaching it — nothing,” Ramadan Darwit told AFP at the hospital.

During a visit with troops in central Gaza, Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi called it a “complex battlefield”.

“The fighting is… below ground, it’s above ground, and (against) an enemy that prepared its defences over a very long period of time in a very organised way. There is a population here, many houses — a very, very complex battlefield,” he said.

– ‘Indescribable’ crisis –

The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas launched its unprecedented October 7 attack, which resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Militants also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza, including at least 25 believed to have been killed.

Israel has responded with a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 23,357 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

The war has triggered an acute humanitarian crisis,with an Israeli siege sparking shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths posted on the social media platform X that Gaza’s health sector “is being slowly choked off”.

The World Health Organization called the humanitarian situation “indescribable”.

In the southern border town of Rafah, which has been overrun with displaced people fleeing fighting further north, former Gaza health ministry staffer Zaki Shaheen converted his shop into a makeshift clinic.

Shaheen said he had worked in emergency care “my whole life”.

“So we decided to open a medical department, and we got help from the health ministry,” he told AFP, noting the goal was to take pressure off of already-overburdened hospitals.

“We receive no less than 30 or 40 cases per day, morning to night. I’ll be sleeping, then someone comes in with an injury or a burn, so we treat them.”

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced inside the territory, which had already endured years of blockade and poverty.

Blinken sketched out a possible post-war future for Gaza after meeting Abbas and Bahrain’s King Hamad on Wednesday.

Blinken told Abbas that Washington supported “tangible steps” towards the creation of a Palestinian state — a long-term goal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government has opposed.

In Bahrain, Blinken said Abbas was “committed” to reforming the Palestinian Authority “so that it can effectively take responsibility for Gaza, so that Gaza and the West Bank can be reunited under a Palestinian leadership”.

– Huthis warned –

Fears, meanwhile, have soared of a widening conflict between Israel and Iran-backed armed groups, especially Lebanon’s Hezbollah, but also others in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Huthi rebels in Yemen who claim to be acting in support of Hamas have carried out numerous attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea, a vital artery for international trade.

The United States has set up a multinational naval task force to protect shipping from the attacks, which Blinken on Wednesday said were “aided and abetted” by Iran and would bring “consequences”.

The same day, the UN Security Council passed a resolution demanding “that the Huthis immediately cease all such attacks, which impede global commerce and undermine navigational rights and freedoms as well as regional peace and security”.

Just a day before, the rebels had “launched a complex” attack in the area, US Central Command said, adding that US and British forces had shot down 18 drones and three missiles, with no casualties or damage reported.

AFP

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *