Terrorist Israel heavily bombs besieged Gaza as toll of martyred Palestinians hits 21,320
GAZA, Palestine (AFP) - Israeli forces on Thursday heavily bombed the besieged Gaza Strip as the centre of fierce combat against Hamas moves steadily south, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians are sheltering.
The health ministry in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said at least 21,320 people have been martyred in the Palestinian territory since the war with Israel erupted on October 7. Another 55,603 people have been wounded in the fighting, health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said in a televised press conference.
The war has devastated much of northern Gaza as air and artillery strikes and house-to-house fighting have become heaviest in the southern city of Khan Yunis. The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza reported at least 50 deaths and dozens more wounded in strikes across the territory on Thursday morning, after an AFP correspondent reported heavy artillery strikes overnight particularly on Khan Yunis. The Israeli army has deployed an additional brigade to Khan Yunis, the hometown of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, said military spokesman Daniel Hagari.
More than 80 percent's of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been driven from their homes, the UN says, and many now live in cramped shelters or makeshift tents in the far south, in and around the city of Rafah near Egypt. UN World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for "urgent steps to alleviate the grave peril" facing Gaza's people, including "terrible injuries, acute hunger and... severe risk of disease". The Israeli army says 167 of its soldiers have been killed in combat inside Gaza against Hamas, considered a "terrorist" organisation by the US and EU.
Quadruplets born in war
An Israeli siege imposed in the wake of the October 7 attack -- following years of crippling blockade -- has deprived Gazans of food, water, fuel and medicine. The severe shortages have only been sporadically eased by humanitarian aid convoys entering primarily via Egypt. "We are tired of everything," said Ekhlas Shnenou who fled her Gaza City home. "Enough with the war, enough with the pain, enough with the hunger."
One of the many people displaced, 28-year-old Iman al-Masry, recently gave birth to quadruplets in a hospital in southern Gaza after fleeing her family's home in the devastated north. The arduous journey "affected my pregnancy", she said, recounting that she gave birth by C-section on December 18 to two girls and two boys, one of whom was too fragile to leave hospital. "They are very slim," she said of the three other infants, speaking in a cramped schoolroom turned shelter in Deir al-Balah. "It's cold and windy and there's no bathtub... I just use wipes."
The Palestinian Red Crescent society reported fresh shelling Thursday near Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis, killing at least 10 people. It decried in a statement the "intensification" of Israeli strikes in the area of the facility, already hit earlier this week, where about 14,000 Palestinians are sheltering.
Violence has also flared across the Israel-occupied West Bank, with at least 314 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers since October 7, according to the territory's health ministry. Israeli forces overnight raided money exchange shops across the West Bank which the military said had provided funds for armed groups. In Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, one man was killed by the troops, according to the health ministry. An AFP journalist saw Palestinians hurl Molotov cocktails at the Israeli forces.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and regularly carries out raids there, though they are far less common in the territory's institutional heart Ramallah. A United Nations report Thursday said the human rights situation in the West Bank was rapidly deteriorating and urged Israel to "end unlawful killings" against the Palestinian population.
Mideast tensions flare
The bloodiest ever Gaza war has also sharply heightened tensions between Israel and its long-time arch foe Iran, which supports armed groups across the Middle East in what it dubs the "Axis of Resistance". Iran blamed Israel for a missile strike in Syria on Monday that killed the senior Iranian military commander Razi Moussavi, who was laid to rest at a tearful mass funeral in Tehran on Thursday.
The crowd chanted "Death to Israel" and "Death to America" after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led a prayer over the body of Moussavi, a top commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' foreign operations arms the Quds Force. Tehran has vowed to avenge the death of Moussavi, the most senior Guards general killed since the US assassination of Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani in 2020.
Israel has traded heavy cross-border fire with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon since the Gaza war broke out, and warned it will step up military action unless the group's militants withdraw further away from the border.
The army on Thursday said it intercepted a drone that crossed in from Lebanon over northern Israel after sirens blared in the Haifa area. A drone also crashed near a village in the Israel-annexed Golan Heights late Wednesday, Israel's army said, after an Iraqi armed group with links to Hamas claimed responsibility for an attack in the area.