Israeli Forces Battle Hamas Around Gaza City, As Military Says 800,000 Have Fled South

Israeli ground forces attacked Hamas militants and infrastructure on Tuesday in northern Gaza, which the military said some 800,000 people have fled since the war began more than three weeks ago, even as warplanes continued to strike from end to end of the sealed-off territory.

Buoyed by the first successful rescue of a captive held by Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected calls for a cease-fire and again vowed to crush the militant group’s ability to govern Gaza or threaten Israel following its bloody Oct. 7 rampage, which ignited the war.

More than half the territory’s 2.3 million Palestinians have fled their homes, with hundreds of thousands sheltering in packed U.N.-run schools-turned-shelters or in hospitals alongside thousands of wounded patients. Israeli strikes have hit closer to several northern hospitals in recent days, alarming medics.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says nearly 672,000 Palestinians are sheltering in its schools and other facilities — four times their capacity. Thousands of people broke into its aid warehouses over the weekend to take food, as supplies of basic goods have dwindled.

There has been no central electricity in Gaza for weeks, and Israel has barred the entry of fuel needed to power emergency generators for hospitals and homes.

Long exposure photo shows destroyed buildings with fire and smoke rise following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)
Long exposure photo shows destroyed buildings with fire and smoke rise following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Monday, Oct. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini accused Israel of “collective punishment” of the Palestinians, and of forcing their displacement from northern Gaza to the south, where they are still not safe.

The agency, which hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza rely on for basic services even in normal times, says 64 of its staff have been killed since the start of the war, including a man killed alongside his wife and eight children in a strike late Monday.

“This is the highest number ever of U.N. aid workers killed in any conflict around the world in such a short time,” spokesperson Juliette Touma told The Associated Press. “UNRWA will never be the same without these colleagues.”

The war has also threatened to ignite other fronts. Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group have traded fire on a daily basis along the border, and Israel and the U.S. have struck targets in Syria linked to Iran, which supports Hamas, Hezbollah and other armed groups in the region.

The military said it shot down a drone outside Israeli airspace on Tuesday near the Red Sea city of Eilat, without providing further details. Earlier this month, a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Red Sea, intercepted three cruise missiles and several drones launched toward Israel by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

In the occupied West Bank, where Israeli-Palestinian violence has also surged, the army demolished the family home of Saleh al-Arouri, a senior Hamas official exiled over a decade ago. Ali Kaseeb, head of the local council in the village of Aroura, said the home had been vacant for 15 years.

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