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Gaza under blackout as toll of martyred Palestinians soars to 7,703

Gaza under blackout as toll of martyred Palestinians soars to 7,703
October 28, 2023 Web Desk

GAZA, Palestine (AFP) - The Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza said Saturday that at least 7,703 people have been martyred in the war with Israel that erupted on October 7.

More than 3,500 children were among the dead, the ministry added. The ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel has caused the highest number of fatalities in Gaza since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the territory in 2005. On Friday evening, Israel intensified its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, the army said, striking dozens of Hamas targets, especially underground tunnels.

The blistering air and artillery assault destroyed hundreds of buildings and thousands of houses across the strip, the civil defence service in the Palestinian territory said. Israel's army relentlessly hammered Gaza on Saturday after fierce overnight bombardment that rescuers said destroyed hundreds of buildings three weeks into a war sparked by the deadliest attack in the country's history. The conflict is the fifth and deadliest in Gaza since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Palestinian territory in 2005.

The latest Israeli strikes against Hamas, the Islamist group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, were the most intense since the war broke out. They coincided with ground operations. With tens of thousands of troops massed along the Gaza border ahead of an expected full-blown invasion, Israeli forces had also made limited ground incursions on Wednesday and Thursday.

"Hundreds of buildings and houses were completely destroyed and thousands of other homes were damaged," said Gaza Civil Defence spokesman Mahmud Bassal. The intense bombardment had "changed the landscape" of northern Gaza, he told AFP. Witnesses said most of the bombing was concentrated in the Jabaliya district of northern Gaza. The strikes left wide craters in the streets and flattened many buildings in the area. 

Death is everywhere

"The army entered the Gaza Strip and extended its operations" with tanks and artillery, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Saturday. Israeli fighter jets hit 150 "terror tunnels, underground combat spaces and additional underground infrastructure" and "several Hamas terrorists were killed", the army said. Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said late Friday it was "confronting an Israeli ground incursion" in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip and east Bureij in the centre.

Israeli warplanes flew overhead on Saturday and successive booms could be heard coming from Gaza, where many buildings lay in ruins, AFP journalists reported. A thick haze of smoke covered Gaza and southern Israel after the night of heavy bombardment. "There are a large number of martyrs and a large number of survivors under the rubble, and we cannot reach them," a Gaza civil defence official said. "The stench of death is everywhere, in every neighbourhood, every street and every house," respiratory physician Raed al-Astal told AFP from Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

Communications blackout

Hamas said all internet connections and communications across Gaza had been cut, accusing Israel of taking the measure to carry out strikes. AFP journalists in Gaza confirmed they were only able to communicate in limited areas where they could connect to Israeli networks across the border.

Human Rights Watch warned the near-total telecommunications blackout in Gaza risked providing cover for "mass atrocities". The Palestinian Red Crescent said the outage had disrupted ambulance services. Lynne Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, also stressed on X, formerly Twitter, that "hospitals & humanitarian operations can't continue without communications".

Between the bombardments and the fuel shortages, 12 of Gaza's 35 hospitals have been forced to close. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it has had to "significantly reduce its operations". Israel's military accused Hamas of using hospitals in Gaza as operations centres for directing attacks, an allegation Hamas denied.