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.



Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons' camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.

"The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis," said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.

More than eight months into Israel's war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern tip and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center.

Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.

The Israeli military said it was continuing "intelligence-based, targeted operations" in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.

Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.

On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas's military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.

In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.