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Israel claims killing ‘dozens of militants’ in ‘close-quarters combat’

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• Aid shipment reaches Gaza after Qatar-France deal
• Refugee camp in occupied West Bank sees violence for second day running

GAZA CITY: Israel claimed killing “dozens of militants” in “close-quarters combat” in Khan Yunis on Thursday, as it intensified operations in southern Gaza’s biggest city.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the army was hitting Khan Yunis particularly hard to “dismantle the Hamas leadership”, as has “already been done” in northern Gaza.

Since ground operations began in late October, Tel Aviv has lost 193 soldiers in Gaza, according to the Israeli military.

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has soared recently, an Israeli attack continued into a second day around Tulkarem, where five Palestinians lost their lives during a strike on a refugee camp on Wednesday.

Palestinian health officials reported a sixth person was killed in Nur Shams refugee camp, on the edge of Tulkarem, on Thursday. He was a civilian not “involved in fighting”, an Israeli official admitted.

About the situation in southern Gaza, a statement by the Israeli army said: “In Khan Yunis, the Givati brigade is now fighting in the southernmost area that (Israeli) ground troops have operated in so far.”

The army was referring to a unit that had been based in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal.

“The soldiers eliminated dozens of terrorists in close-quarters combat and with the assistance of tank fire and air support,” the statement claimed.

The Israelis further claimed they had seized a “weapons cache, including AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades,” during a raid on the Martyr’s Outpost of Hamas’s Khan Yunis brigade and the offices of its commanders.

Live television footage showed smoke rising over southern Gaza in the afternoon. Eyewitnesses reported dozens of strikes, including on Khan Yunis and refugee camps in central Gaza.

The territory’s health ministry said 93 people had been killed on Wednesday night, including 16 in a strike on a house in the southern city of Rafah, where many Palestinians have taken refuge after leaving their homes in the north.

At the scene, a man sat quietly among the rubble, his head bowed, examining a child’s glove while a woman mourned the loss of her children and her house.

“The eldest was a second-grade girl,” Umm Walid Al Zamli said in a choked voice. “What did they do wrong?”

Fighting has ravaged Gaza since Hamas’s Oct 7 raids in Israel.

Threatening to destroy Hamas, Israel is conducting relentless bombardment and a ground offensive. These have killed 24,620 Palestinians, around 70 per cent of them women and children.

Hamas took about 250 Israelis prisoner, 132 of whom remain in Gaza. At least 27 prisoners are believed to have died.

Moment of relief

Aid agencies say greater access to Gaza is urgently needed, as famine and disease threatens hundreds of lives.

Palestinian and Israeli officials confirmed a shipment of aid, including medicine for the prisoners, had entered Gaza on Thursday after French and Qatari mediation.

Qatar said the shipment, which also comprises humanitarian aid for Gaza’s civilians, had reached the territory under a deal struck on Tuesday.

Two planes had earlier arrived in the Egyptian city of El Arish, near Gaza, with 61 tonnes of aid provided by Qatar and France.

The International Comm­ittee of the Red Cross said it did not play any role in implementing the deal, but welcomed it as “a much-needed moment of relief”.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2024


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