Palestinians dug under crushed buildings Monday to recover the bodies of families killed in strikes around Gaza as Israeli forces battled militants in the territory’s two largest cities, where many thousands of civilians are still trapped by the fighting.
Residents said battles went on in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces opened a new line of attack last week. Battles were also still underway in parts of Gaza City and the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where large areas have been reduced to rubble.
Israel has pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, dismantles its military capabilities and gets back all of the hostages taken by militants during Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack into Israel that ignited the war. The Israeli campaign has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and driven nearly 85% of the territory’s 2.3 million people from their homes.
In central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike overnight flattened a residential building where some 80 people were staying in the Maghazi refugee camp, residents said.
Ahmed al-Qarah, a neighbor who was digging through the rubble for survivors, said he knew of only six people who made it out. “The rest are under the building,” he said. At a nearby hospital, family members sobbed over the bodies of several of the dead from the strike.
In Khan Younis, Radwa Abu Frayeh saw heavy Israeli strikes overnight around the European Hospital, where the UN humanitarian office says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter. She said one hit a home close to hers late Sunday.
“The building shook,” she said. “We thought it was the end and we would die.”
Hussein al-Sayyed, who fled Gaza City earlier in the war with his three daughters, is staying in a three-story home in the city with around 70 others. He said they have been rationing food for days. “I don’t know where to go,” he said. “No place is safe.”
Hamas on Monday fired a barrage of rockets that set off sirens in Tel Aviv. One person was lightly wounded, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service. Israel's Channel 12 television broadcast footage of a cratered road and damage to cars and buildings in a suburb.
FIERCE FIGHTING In northern Gaza, Israeli forces and militants have been fighting in the refugee camp of Jabaliya and the Gaza City district of Shijaiya.
Large swaths of Gaza City and other parts of the north have been obliterated by weeks of bombardment and fighting, but tens of thousands of people are believed to remain, huddled in homes, UN shelters and hospitals.
The UN humanitarian office, known as OCHA, described a harrowing journey through the battle zone by a UN and Red Crescent convoy over the weekend that made the first delivery of medical supplies to the north in more than a week. It said an ambulance and UN truck were hit by gunfire on the way to Al-Ahly Hospital to drop off the supplies.
The convoy then evacuated 19 patients but was delayed for inspections by Israeli forces on the way south. OCHA said one patient died, and a paramedic was detained for hours, interrogated and reportedly beaten.
The fighting in Jabaliya has trapped hundreds of staff, patients and displaced people inside a number of hospitals, most of them unable to function.
Two staff members were killed over the weekend by clashes outside Al-Awda Hospital, OCHA said. Shelling and live ammunition hit Al-Yemen Al-Saeed Hospital, killing an unknown number of displaced people sheltering inside, it said. It did not say which side was behind the fire.
Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames their deaths on Hamas, saying it endangers residents by fighting in dense areas and positioning weapons, tunnels and rocket launchers in or near civilian buildings.
The military said five soldiers were killed Sunday in a battle in southern Gaza after militants fired at them from a school and set off an explosive device. Military officials said the troops, backed by aircraft and tanks, returned fire and killed the militants.
HARSH CONDITIONS IN THE SOUTH With Israel allowing little aid into Gaza and the UN largely unable to distribute it amid the fighting, Palestinians face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods.
Israel has urged people to flee to what it says are safe areas in the south. The fighting in and around Khan Younis has pushed tens of thousands toward the town of Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt.
Still, airstrikes have continued even in areas to which Palestinians are told to flee. A strike in Rafah early Monday heavily damaged a residential building, killing at least nine people, all but one of them women, according to Associated Press reporters who saw the bodies at the hospital.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders said people in the south are also falling ill as they pack into crowded shelters or sleep in tents in open areas.
Nicholas Papachrysostomou, the group's emergency coordinator in Gaza, said “every other patient” at a clinic in Rafah has a respiratory infection after prolonged exposure to cold and rain.
“In some shelters, 600 people share a single toilet. We are already seeing many cases of diarrhea. Often children are the worst affected,” he said.
With almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people crowded in the south, some worry that Palestinians will be forced out of the territory altogether in a repeat of the mass exodus from what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.
“Expect public order to completely break down soon, and an even worse situation could unfold, including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, called allegations that Israeli intends to drive people from Gaza “outrageous and false.” But other Israeli officials have discussed such a scenario, raising alarm in Egypt and other Arab countries that refuse to accept any refugees.
Palestinians in Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied West Bank observed a general strike Monday called by activists to demand a ceasefire, after the US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for one on Friday. A similar, nonbinding vote is planned in the General Assembly on Tuesday.
The US has provided unwavering diplomatic and military support for the campaign, even as it has urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties and further mass displacement.
With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,900, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
Some 1,300 people have died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed during the Oct. 7 attack. The toll also includes 104 soldiers who have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive since late October.
During the Oct. 7 attack, militants took more than 240 people captive. After exchanges during a weeklong ceasefire last month. Israel says Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people who died in captivity or during the initial attack.