Israel pounds Gazan refugee camp again as war enters 9th month

Palestinians look at the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Nuseirat on Friday, a day after the military hit a UN-run school in the refugee camp. (AP pic)

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israeli forces bombarded a Gaza refugee camp on Friday after a deadly strike on a United Nations school there, as the war sparked by Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel entered its ninth month.

Efforts to mediate the first ceasefire in the bloody conflict since a week-long pause in November appear to have stalled, only a week after US president Joe Biden offered a new roadmap.

Hamas has yet to respond to Biden’s proposal, while Israel has expressed openness to discussions but remains committed to destroying the Palestinian Islamist group.

In a new truce bid, US secretary of state Antony Blinken will visit Israel and key regional partners Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar from Monday on his eighth Middle East trip since the war began, the state department said.

As Gaza faced Israeli attacks from land, sea, and air on Friday, witnesses said the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza was hit again, a day after the Israeli strike on a UN-run school.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir al-Balah said at least 37 people were killed in Thursday’s airstrike, which the Israeli military said targeted “terrorists” hiding in three classrooms.

On Friday, the military as well as the Hamas-run government media office reported another Israeli strike on a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, in the Al-Shati refugee camp.

The army said the strike targeted Hamas fighters operating from a container on the northern Gaza school grounds.

An AFP photographer saw Palestinians inspecting the remains of the charred container after the strike that the media office said killed three people.

Strikes across Gaza

UNRWA said hundreds of displaced Gazans were sheltering at the Nuseirat school targeted on Thursday, which was “hit without prior warning”.

Presumed relatively safe from Israeli bombardment, many UNRWA facilities across Gaza have become shelters for civilians.

But the agency’s spokesman Juliette Touma told AFP Friday that “over 180 UNRWA facilities…have been hit since the war began”.

Israel accuses Hamas and its allies in Gaza of using schools, hospitals, and other civilian infrastructure, including UN-run facilities, as operational centres – charges the fighters deny.

A separate Israeli strike late Thursday killed Nuseirat mayor Iyad al-Mughari as he visited a water pumping station, a municipality spokesman said Friday.

Israel’s military said it would publish a statement about the strike.

Witnesses also reported Israeli strikes east of Deir al-Balah and intensive fire near the Bureij camp.

Israel’s military said it “eliminated dozens of terrorists” in eastern Bureij and Deir al-Balah, where a hospital source said a strike on the Wafati home in nearby Maghazi camp killed six people.

The military also released footage of soldiers in the southern city of Rafah.

Fighter jets targeted the Al-Sultan neighbourhood, said sources in the city bordering Egypt.

Gaza also came under fire from the sea, with warships bombarding areas west of Gaza City, an AFP correspondent said.

Osama al-Kahlut of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said “occupation forces and snipers” east of Deir al-Balah were firing on people along Gaza’s main thoroughfare.

“Gunfire on Salaheddin Street has severely restricted people’s movement, and several wounded people have been evacuated from the area,” he told AFP.

Israeli isolation

The war was sparked by Hamas’ Oct 7 attack, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Fighters also took 251 hostages, 120 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 36,731 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel has faced growing diplomatic isolation, with international court cases accusing it of war crimes and several European countries recognising a Palestinian state.

Israel’s UN envoy, Gilad Erdan, said on Friday that he was “disgusted” that the Israeli military will be on an upcoming UN list of countries and armed forces that fail to protect children during war.

The annual UN report, which highlights human rights violations against children in conflict zones, is expected to be published by the end of June.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has meanwhile accepted an invitation from US lawmakers to address Congress on July 24, a congressional source said.

A week ago, Biden outlined what he labelled an Israeli plan to halt the fighting for six weeks while hostages are exchanged for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the delivery of aid into besieged Gaza is stepped up.

G7 powers and Arab states have backed the proposal, with 16 world leaders joining Biden’s call for Hamas to accept the deal.

“There is no time to lose. We call on Hamas to close this agreement,” the joint statement said.

Aid pier ‘reestablished’

Egypt’s state-linked Al-Qahera news quoted a high-level source on Thursday as saying Cairo had “received positive signs from the Palestinian movement signalling its aspiration for a ceasefire”.

But Beirut-based senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan cast doubt on Biden’s proposal, calling it “just words”.

Qatar said on Thursday that Hamas has not yet given its response to the truce plan.

Major sticking points include Hamas insisting on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal – demands Israel has rejected.

On his visit, Blinken “will emphasise the importance of Hamas accepting the proposal on the table” which “would benefit both Israelis and Palestinians”, said state department spokesman Matthew Miller.

The conflict has laid waste much of the Gaza Strip, uprooted most of its 2.4 million people, and put them at risk of starvation.

The UN’s labour agency said Friday the war had “caused loss of jobs and livelihoods on a massive scale”, with nearly 80% of Gazans now unemployed.

As aid entering Gaza has slowed to a trickle, a temporary pier meant to boost humanitarian shipments by sea has been “successfully reestablished” after suffering storm damage, the US military said Friday.


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