Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south gunmen attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

As fighting raged in the north and south of the territory, the US military said trucks had started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier built off Gaza.

"Israel's focus is Jabalia now, tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world," said Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia.

"Shame on the world. Meanwhile, the Americans are going to get us some food," Rajab, a father-of-four, told Reuters via a chat app. "We want no food, we want this war to end and then we can manage our lives on our own."

Israel had said its forces had cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent the group re-establishing itself there.

The fighting has coincided with an assault on Rafah at the southern edge of the strip bordering Egypt sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from both ends of the territory at once. Thick smoke could be seen rising over Rafah on Friday.

The aid being delivered via the floating pier, built by the US military in the Israel port of Ashdod and towed into place off Gaza this week, is the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The United Nations said it was finalizing plans to distribute aid delivered via the route, through it reiterated that truck convoys by land - disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah - were the most efficient way of getting aid in.

"To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now," deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement troops had killed more than 60 militants in recent days and located a weapons warehouse close to a shelter complex in what it described as a "divisional-level offensive" in Jabalia.

A divisional operation would typically involve multiple brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

"Even now, the soldiers are exchanging fire with terrorist cells in the area," the IDF said. "The 7th Brigade's fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure."

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed in the war, according to figures from the enclave's health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and the threat of disease.

Doctors complain they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anesthetics or painkillers as the medical system in the territory has virtually collapsed.

Israel says it must complete its objective of destroying Hamas for its own safety after the deaths of 1,200 people on Oct. 7, and to free the 128 hostages still held out of 253 abducted by the gunmen, according to its tallies.

To achieve that, it says it must capture Rafah, where around half of the territory's 2.3 million people had sought shelter from the fighting further north.

Israel's operation against Rafah, which began in early May but has yet to escalate to an all-out assault, has ignited one of the biggest rifts in generations with its main ally, the United States. Washington held up a weapons shipment over fears of civilian casualties.

Underlining concerns among other Western nations that have generally backed Israel, a letter seen by Reuters on Friday and signed by more than a dozen democracies, including all members of the G7 apart from the US, urged Israel to comply with international humanitarian law in Gaza.

'TRAGIC WAR'

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were firing anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said that since the military offensive on Rafah started on May 6, more than 630,000 people have been forced to flee Rafah.

"Many have sought refuge in Deir al-Balah, which is now unbearably overcrowded with dire conditions," it added. Deir al-Balah, up the coast from Rafah to the north, is the only other city in Gaza yet to be assaulted by Israeli forces.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

Noam said Israel was fighting a war of self-defense and that the military operation in Rafah was not aimed at civilians but at dismantling the last Hamas stronghold.

"There is a tragic war going on, but there is no genocide" in Gaza, Noam said.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.



Israel Pounds Central Gaza Camps, Deepens Invasion of Rafah

A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
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Israel Pounds Central Gaza Camps, Deepens Invasion of Rafah

A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS
A view of a damaged building, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, at the Rafah Crossing, Gaza, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on June 19, 2024. Doron Kadosh, Glz/via REUTERS

Israeli forces pounded areas in the central Gaza Strip overnight, killing three people and wounding dozens of others, according to medics, while tanks deepened their invasion into Rafah in the south, residents said.
Israeli planes struck a house in Al-Nuseirat camp, killing two people and wounding 12 others, while tanks shelled areas in Al-Maghazi and Al-Bureij camps, wounding many other people, health officials said, according to Reuters. Nuseirat, Maghazi, and Bureij are three of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps.
In Deir al-Balah, a city packed with displaced people in the central Gaza Strip, an Israeli airstrike killed one Palestinian and wounded several others on Thursday, medics said.
The Israeli military said on Wednesday forces were continuing their operations across the enclave targeting militants and military infrastructure in what it described as "precise, intelligence-based" activities.
More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel's advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to storm: Rafah on Gaza's southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center. The operations have forced more than a million people to flee since May, the vast majority already displaced from other parts of the enclave.
In Rafah, near the border with Egypt, Israeli tanks stationed deep in the western and central areas of the city stepped up bombardment, forcing more families living in the far coastal areas to flee northward. Some residents said the pace of the raid has been accelerated in the past two days.
"The tanks took control of most of the areas in Rafah. People living by the beach have also started to leave toward Khan Younis and central areas in fear because of the continued bombardment," said Abu Wasim, a resident from Rafah's Al-Shaboura neighborhood, who quit his home over a week ago before tanks rolled in reaching the heart of the city.
Rafah housed over half of Gaza's 2.3 million people until May 7 when Israeli forces began the ground offensive into the city. Fewer than 100,000 are now believed to be left behind.
There has been no sign of let-up in the fighting as efforts by international mediators, backed by the United States, have failed to persuade Israel and Hamas to agree to a ceasefire.
The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said fighters battled Israeli forces with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs, and have in some areas detonated pre-planted explosive devices against army units.
On Thursday, Israeli authorities freed 33 Palestinians who had been detained during the past months by Israeli forces in different areas of the enclave. The freed detainees were admitted into Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip after they complained of torture and mistreatment by Israeli jailers.