Israeli troops battle Hamas in northern Gaza, hospitals in firing line

  • Recent Developments:
  • Gaza residents say Israeli troops are inching closer to Al Shifa Hospital, where Israel believes Hamas’ command center is located.
  • For the fifth straight day, Israel has opened the passage for people to leave Gaza City

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Israeli forces shelled buildings in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, battling Hamas militants as civilian casualties worsened in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Gazans said Israeli troops were closing in on Al Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest health facility, where Israel believes a Hamas command center is located. Thousands of Palestinians have taken refuge there from incessant Israeli bombardment.

The United Nations human rights chief called for a ceasefire and said both sides had committed war crimes.

In Paris, officials from about 80 countries and organizations were meeting to coordinate humanitarian aid to Gaza and find ways to help injured civilians escape the siege.

Residents of Gaza City, a militant stronghold in the north of the Hamas-ruled territory, said Israeli tanks were stationed around the city. Both sides claimed to have inflicted heavy casualties on each other in fierce street fighting.

Israel unleashed its assault on Gaza in retaliation for a cross-border Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7, in which gunmen killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages, according to Israeli calculations. It was the bloodiest day in Israel’s 75-year history.

Palestinian officials said as of Wednesday that 10,569 Gazans had been killed, 40% of them children, as a humanitarian crisis gripped the enclave, with basic supplies running out and buildings demolished by relentless Israeli bombardment.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas, says its ground operation has killed 33 soldiers as it advances into the heart of Gaza City.

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Israeli troops have secured Compound 17, a Hamas military stronghold in Jabalya, northern Gaza, after a 10-hour battle with Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants, the Israeli military said on Wednesday.

Troops killed dozens of militants, seized weapons, exposed tunnel shafts and discovered a Hamas weapons manufacturing base in a residential building in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.

Israeli military footage showed them crawling through the rubble into a building where a wall had been blown away, revealing weapons-making equipment, instruction manuals and a tunnel shaft with a cooling system. Nearby was a little girl’s bedroom with pink walls, pink wardrobes and three small beds.

Hamas’s weapons wing said it killed a higher number of Israeli soldiers than the army had reported and destroyed dozens of tanks, bulldozers and other vehicles. It released footage of militants firing anti-tank rockets and directly hitting vehicles.

Not running anywhere

Thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge in Al Shifa Hospital inside Gaza City as Israel ordered the evacuation of the encircled area. They have taken shelter in tents on the hospital premises and say they have nowhere else to go.

The UN humanitarian office, OCHA, said the Israeli army had again told residents in the north to move south, opening a four-hour corridor for the fifth day in a row. About 50,000 people had left the area on Wednesday, it said.

Clashes and shelling continued around the main road, putting evacuees at risk. Most evacuees were on foot as the Israeli army told them to leave their vehicles on the southern edge of Gaza City, leaving corpses on the roadside.

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Large numbers of displaced people from Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are already crammed into schools, hospitals and other sites in the south.

While fighting is concentrated in the north, southern areas are also under regular attack. In Gaza’s main southern city of Khan Younis, residents on Thursday morning sifted through the rubble and twisted rubble of a building destroyed by an Israeli airstrike, witnesses said.

“As deaths and injuries continue to rise in Gaza due to intense hostilities, severe overcrowding and disrupted sanitation, water and sanitation systems pose an additional risk: the rapid spread of infectious diseases,” the World Health Organization said.

War crimes

UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Turk on Wednesday called for an immediate ceasefire – which Israel and its key ally the US continue to deny would benefit Hamas.

“The atrocities committed by Palestinian armed groups on October 7 are heinous, they are war crimes – as is the continued holding of hostages,” Turk said at the Rafah crossing on the Gaza border with Egypt.

“Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian civilians is a war crime and constitutes an illegal forced evacuation of civilians,” he said.

Arab states, Western powers, G20 members and humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders will discuss measures to ease the suffering in Gaza at a conference in Paris on Thursday, but without a pause in the fighting expectations are low.

Among the options discussed was the creation of a sea route, which could use sea routes to send humanitarian aid to Gaza or to evacuate the wounded.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who is passing through the region on a diplomatic mission, outlined Washington’s expectations for Gaza when the conflict ends on Wednesday. He pushed back against Israeli claims that Israel should be responsible for Gaza’s security indefinitely.

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“Gaza should not be reoccupied after the end of the conflict. Gaza should not be blockaded or attempted to be blockaded. Gaza’s borders should not be reduced,” Blinken told a news conference in Tokyo.

The end of the conflict may require “some transition period,” Blinken said, but post-crisis Gaza “must be under Palestinian-led governance and Gaza should be integrated with the West Bank under Palestinian authority.”

The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says the Gaza Strip, ruled by Hamas since 2007, is an integral part of a future Palestinian state.

Israeli officials have said they do not want to occupy Gaza after the war, but have yet to reveal how they will ensure security. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Mytal Angel in Gaza, Emily Rose and Mayan Lubel in Jerusalem, Rami Amiche in Tel Aviv, Matt Spetalnik and Humera Pamuk in Washington and other Reuters bureaus; Written by Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graf

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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A veteran reporter with nearly 25 years of experience covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including several wars and the signing of the first historic peace agreement between the two sides.

The award-nominated reporter covers high-impact events in soft goods and agricultural products with the widest coverage, analyzes industry trends and uncovers developments driving the market. Includes market-moving investigative stories on commodity trade flows, corporate strategy, farmer poverty, sustainability, climate change and government policy.

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