RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops and tanks launched an hours-long ground attack on the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday night, the military said, striking several militant targets to “prepare the battlefield” before it collapsed after more than two Days after a widely expected ground invasion comes weeks of devastating air strikes.

The raid came after the UN warned that it was running out of fuel in the Gaza Strip, forcing it to drastically cut aid efforts in the area, which has also been under complete siege since Hamas’ bloody rampage in southern Israel began at the start of the war this month.

The rising death toll in Gaza, which Palestinian officials said topped 7,000 on Thursday, is unprecedented in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even greater loss of life could occur if Israel launches an expected ground offensive aimed at crushing Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007 and has survived four previous wars with Israel.

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The health ministry in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said on Wednesday that more than 750 people were killed in the past 24 hours, up from 704 the previous day. The Associated Press could not independently verify the death toll and the ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants.

On Wednesday, the wife, son, daughter and grandson of Wael Dahdouh, a veteran Al Jazeera correspondent in Gaza, were killed in an Israeli strike. The Qatar-based broadcaster showed footage of his grief as he entered a hospital and saw his dead son. Dahdouh and other mourners attended the funerals on Thursday wearing the blue body armor worn by reporters in the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli military says it only attacks militant targets and accuses Hamas of operating among civilians in the densely populated Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired rocket fire at Israel since the war began.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas’s ability to rule the Gaza Strip or threaten it again. At the same time, it has declared that it does not want to reoccupy the area from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005. That could prove a formidable challenge since Hamas has deep roots in Palestinian society, with political and charitable organizations and a formidable armed wing.

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Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Israel’s war cabinet, said any potential ground offensive would be just “a phase in a long-term process that includes security, political and social aspects and will take years.”

“The campaign will move forward with greater vigor soon,” he added.

In the nighttime attack, soldiers killed militants and destroyed militant infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch sites, the military said. It said no Israelis were injured. There was no immediate confirmation of any Palestinian casualties.

Palestinians react at the site of Israeli attacks on houses in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 26, 2023, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues. Photo by Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Israeli Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, said the limited incursion was “part of our preparations for the next phases of the war.”

Israel also said it had carried out around 250 airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in the past 24 hours, targeting tunnel shafts, rocket launchers and other militant infrastructure.

According to Gaza’s health ministry, more than 7,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war – a figure that includes the disputed toll of a hospital explosion. That is more than three times the number of Palestinians killed in the six-week Gaza war in 2014. The ministry’s victims include more than 2,900 minors and more than 1,500 women.

According to the Israeli government, the fighting in Israel killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians killed in the first Hamas attack. Hamas is also holding at least 224 hostages in Gaza.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA’s warning about depleting fuel supplies raised alarm that the humanitarian crisis could quickly worsen.

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The population of Gaza also lacks food, water and medicine. About 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have fled their homes, with nearly half of them crammed into UN shelters. Hundreds of thousands remain in northern Gaza despite Israel ordering them to evacuate to the south, saying those remaining could be viewed as “accomplices” of Hamas.

In recent days, Israel has allowed more than 60 trucks of aid to enter from Egypt, which aid workers say is insufficient and represents only a tiny fraction of what was brought before the war. Israel still bans the supply of fuel needed to run generators and says it expects Hamas to accept it.

An official from the International Committee of the Red Cross said they hoped to bring in eight trucks full of vital medical supplies.

“This is a small part of what is needed, a drop in the bucket,” said William Schomburg, head of the sub-delegation in Gaza. “We’re trying to build a pipeline.”

“Are we giving it to the incubators or the bakeries?” she said. “It’s an agonizing decision.”

UNRWA has shared its own fuel supplies so that trucks can distribute aid, bakeries can feed people in shelters, desalinate water and hospitals can keep incubators, life support machines and other vital equipment running. If it continues, fuel will run out by Thursday, so the agency is deciding how to ration its supplies, UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai told The Associated Press.

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“Are we giving it to the incubators or the bakeries?” she said. “It’s an agonizing decision.”

According to the World Health Organization, more than half of Gaza’s primary health care facilities and about a third of its hospitals are no longer functioning.

At al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, a lack of medicine and clean water has led to “alarming” infection rates, the group Doctors Without Borders said. Amputations are often necessary to prevent the infection from spreading among the wounded, it said.

A surgeon in the group described amputating half of a 9-year-old boy’s foot with only “light sedation” on the hallway floor as his mother and sister watched.

The conflict also threatened to spread throughout the region. The Israeli military said on Wednesday that it had attacked military sites in Syria in response to rocket fire from the country. Syrian state media reported that eight soldiers were killed and seven others were injured.

Israel also engaged in almost daily exchanges of fire with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah across the Lebanese border.

Israeli airstrikes and drone strikes sparked fires in open fields in the southern Lebanon border town of Aita al Shaab early Thursday, where clashes intensified, Lebanon’s state news agency said. Strikes were reported late Wednesday in towns in Tire district, with a mattress factory attacked.

Hamas’ October 7 surprise attack in southern Israel stunned the country with its brutality, its unprecedented death toll and the fact that intelligence services had no idea it was coming. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech on Wednesday evening that he would be held accountable, but only after Hamas’ defeat.

“We will get to the bottom of this,” he said. “This debacle is being investigated. Everyone will have to give answers, including me.”

Chehayeb reported from Beirut and Teibel from Jerusalem. Wafaa Shurafa in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip, and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

Source : www.pbs.org

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