Israel pounded the length of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing families in their homes even as Washington’s envoy discussed how its ally could better protect civilians in its war on Hamas militants.
The more than two-month-old war is now raging across the entire Palestinian enclave, causing a humanitarian catastrophe, with little end in sight.
“It will last more than several months – but we will win and we will destroy them,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told visiting White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
He, in turn, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhahu and spoke with Israeli officials about possibly transitioning to “lower-intensity” military operations in Gaza, the White House said, without putting any timeframe on that.
The New York Times, quoting unidentified U.S. officials, said the White House told Israel to end its large-scale ground campaign in Gaza around the end of the year and transition to a more targeted phase employing elite commandos.
In the Rafah area, jammed with people in makeshift tents on Gaza’s southern edge, people wept at a morgue near bodies wrapped in bloodied shrouds.
Residents picked forlornly through the rubble of the adjacent homes of the Abu Dhbaa and Ashour families where Gaza health authorities said 26 people had been killed.
Neighbour Fadel Shabaan had rushed to the area after the bombing. “It was difficult because of the dust and people’s screams,” he said.
“This is a safe camp, there is nothing here, the children play soccer in the street.”
With Europe on alert for Islamist threats linked to the war, authorities in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands said seven people, including four suspected Hamas members, were arrested on suspicion of planning attacks on Jewish institutions.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri denied Hamas members were arrested, saying the reports were meant to erode support for Palestinians in Europe.
In further possible international fallout from the war, Danish company Maersk said a cargo ship was targeted by a missile off Yemen. And maritime security company Ambrey said a Malta-flagged, Bulgarian-owned bulk carrier was reportedly boarded in the Arabian Sea near the Yemeni island of Socotra.
Yemen’s Houthi group, which has warned cargo ships in the Red Sea to avoid travel toward Israel, has attacked vessels and fired drones and missiles at Israel since the Gaza war began. It made no comment on Thursday’s reports.
With the war’s consequences escalating fast, Netanyahu has so far brushed off appeals for a ceasefire.
Washington has provided diplomatic cover for its longstanding ally but expressed increasing alarm, with President Joe Biden calling Israeli bombing “indiscriminate”.
Up to 45% of the 29,000 air-to-ground munitions that Israel has dropped on Gaza since Oct. 7 have been unguided “dumb bombs” according to a U.S. intelligence assessment reported by CNN.
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a member of Israel’s security cabinet and Netanyahu’s Likud party, rejected Biden’s characterisation. “There is no such thing as ‘dumb bombs’. Some bombs are more accurate, some bombs are less accurate. What we have is mostly pilots who are precise,” he told Army Radio.
Israel launched its campaign in retaliation for a rampage by Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules Gaza, whose fighters killed 1,200 Israelis and seized 240 hostages in a cross-border raid on Oct. 7.
Since then, Israeli forces have besieged the coastal strip and laid much of it to waste, with nearly 19,000 people confirmed dead, according to Palestinian health officials, and thousands more feared buried under the rubble.
Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been forced from their homes, many several times.
The U.N. Palestinian Refugee Agency said hungry people were stopping trucks and eating food aid immediately. “We meet more and more people who haven’t eaten for one, two or three days,” its head Philippe Lazzarini told reporters in Geneva.
People in Gaza described begging for bread, paying 50 times more than usual for a single can of beans and slaughtering a donkey to feed a large family.
Israel has extended its ground campaign from the north to the south this month.
In the main southern city Khan Younis, where advancing Israeli forces reached the centre this week, a whole city block was bombed overnight to dust. Though most people fled after Israeli warnings, neighbours digging with a hand shovel believed four people were inside. One body was recovered.
“May God take revenge on them,” said Nesmah al-Byouk, returning to the ruins of the home she had fled three days ago. “We came and saw everything destroyed … Where we can we go to now?”
In the north, fighting has escalated even after Israel announced its troops had largely completed their military objectives last month.
The Israeli military said its troops had dismantled a Hamas operating site in a school in the Shejaia area and destroyed two tunnel shafts, a rocket launch pit and a weapons storage facility in Khan Younis.
Elsewhere in the north in Jabalia, Gaza’s health ministry said Israeli forces had stormed a hospital, detaining and abusing medical staff and preventing them from treating wounded patients, at least two of whom had died.
Israel’s military said fighters had been operating inside the hospital, 70 of whom had surrendered.
It released pictures of a small group of men stripped to their waists, in track suit bottoms and sandals. In one picture, four prisoners are holding rifles over their heads. Another image showed a long column of clothed people walking with green slips of paper in their hands, apparently unarmed. Reuters could not reach the area.
There has also been an intensification of clashes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Palestinian health ministry and international charities said at least 12 Palestinians, including a youth shot at a hospital, had been killed in a raid in the city of Jenin since Tuesday.