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Ceasefire plans stall as Israel intensifies strikes on Gaza

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© Smoke rises in the air following Israeli bombings in Gaza, as seen from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel October 15, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Humeyra Pamuk

GAZA/JERUSALEM/CAIRO () -Hopes for a brief ceasefire in southern Gaza to allow foreign passport holders to leave the besieged Palestinian enclave and aid to be brought in were dashed on Monday, with Israeli bombardments intensifying ahead of an expected ground invasion.

Residents of Hamas-ruled Gaza said the overnight strikes were the heaviest yet in nine days of conflict. Many houses were flattened and the death toll rose inexorably, they said.

Diplomatic efforts have been underway to get aid into the enclave, which has endured unrelenting Israeli bombing since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas militants that killed 1,300 people – the bloodiest single day in the state’s 75-year history.

Israel has imposed a full blockade and is preparing a ground invasion to enter Gaza and destroy Hamas, which has continued to fire rockets at Israel since its brief cross-border assault. On Monday, rocket-warning sirens sounded in several towns in southern Israel, the Israeli military said.

Israeli troops and tanks are already massed on the border.

Authorities in Gaza said at least 2,750 people had so far been killed by the Israeli strikes, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded. A further 1,000 people were missing and believed to be under rubble.

As the humanitarian crisis deepened, with food, fuel and water running short, hundreds of tons of aid from several countries have been held up in Egypt pending a deal for its safe delivery to Gaza and the evacuation of some foreign passport holders through the Rafah border crossing.

Earlier on Monday, Egyptian security sources had told that an agreement had been reached to open the crossing to allow aid into the enclave.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement: “There is currently no truce and humanitarian aid in Gaza in exchange for getting foreigners out.”

Chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said there was no Gaza ceasefire and that Israel was continuing its attacks.

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq told that there was “no truth” to the reports about the opening of the crossing with Egypt or a temporary ceasefire.

Egypt has said the crossing remained open from the Egyptian side in recent days, but was rendered inoperable due to Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian side.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday that the Israeli government had yet to take a stance that allowed the crossing to open. He called the situation faced by the Palestinian people in Gaza “dangerous”.

The situation remained unclear at the Rafah crossing, the only one not controlled by Israel. journalists said a small crowd of people had gathered there waiting to enter Egypt.

The United States had told its citizens in Gaza to get close to the crossing so they can move out. The U.S. government estimates the number of dual-citizen Palestinian-Americans in Gaza at 500 to 600.

Washington is also seeking to secure the release of 199 hostages that Israel says were taken by Hamas back into Gaza. Among them are elderly people, women and children and foreigners, including Americans.

U.S. President Joe Biden has sent military aid to Israel but also stressed the need to get humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians and urged Israel to follow the rules of war in its response to the Hamas attacks.

HEAVY BOMBING

Israeli aircraft bombed areas around Gaza City’s Al-Quds hospital early on Monday and ambulances at the facility were unable to move due to the strikes, Palestinian media reported.

Israel has urged Gazans to evacuate south, which hundreds of thousands have already done in the enclave, home to about 2.3 million people. Hamas has told people to ignore Israel’s message.

Reserves of fuel at all hospitals across the Gaza Strip are expected to last only around 24 more hours, putting thousands of patients at risk, the United Nations humanitarian office (OCHA) said early on Monday.

In Tel Al-Hawa in Gaza City, Israeli planes bombed a main road and damaged surrounding houses, forcing hundreds of residents to take shelter in the Red Crescent’s Al-Quds Hospital, residents said.

Israeli planes bombed three headquarters of the Civil Emergency and Ambulance Service in Gaza City, killing five people and paralyzing the rescue services in those areas, health officials said.

In a bombing of a house belonging to the Abu Mustafa family in Khan Younis refugee camp, five members of a family were killed.

Suhail Baker, 45, said he woke up to the sound of an explosion from an Israeli air strike that destroyed the house of his neighbour, killing five people.

“We woke up in horror, and we see them dismembered, it took a long time to remove the rubble by the bulldozers to recover the bodies,” said Baker.

At a nearby street in Khan Younis, Abu Ahmed, an elderly man sitting outside his house, said: “Israel has taken a decision to kill every last one of us.”

More than one million people – almost half the total population of Gaza – have been displaced within the enclave, the United Nations said. The UNWRA agency said it was struggling to cope with their needs.

People across Gaza have severely limited access to clean drinking water. As a last resort, people are consuming brackish water from agricultural wells, raising concerns over the spread of waterborne diseases. 

For the fifth consecutive day, Gaza has had no electricity, pushing vital services, including health, water and sanitation to the brink of collapse, and worsening food insecurity.

BLINKEN IN ISRAEL

U.S. officials have warned that the war between Israel and Hamas could escalate after cross-border clashes between Israel and militants from Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel for talks on Monday, Iran said the United States should be held to account for its role in the conflict. 

American warships have headed to the region and Israel said on Monday it would evacuate residents of 28 villages on the border with Lebanon after one came under a missile attack by Iranian-backed Hezbollah on Sunday. Israeli media said a civilian was killed.

video journalist Issam Abdallah was killed on the Lebanese side of the border on Friday.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday the United States had seen no indications that Hezbollah militants were amassing on the border to potentially attack Israel.

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