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Deadly fighting in southern Gaza, a UN agency under fire

Photo: Fatima Shbair Associated Press Palestinians amid rubble after an Israeli strike in Rafah.

Adel Zaanoun – Agence France-Presse in the Gaza Strip

10:27 a.m.

  • Middle East

Deadly fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas rages on Saturday in the south of the Gaza Strip, where thousands of trapped civilians survive in disastrous humanitarian conditions, in the rain and the cold.

In the devastated and besieged Palestinian territory, UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for aiding civilians, is in the sights of Israeli authorities, according to which some of its employees were involved in the bloody attack carried out on October 7 by Hamas on Israeli soil, at the origin of the war.

Israel wants to “ensure” that UNRWA no longer plays any role in Gaza after the war, its head of diplomacy, Israel Katz, said on Saturday, while the Islamist movement denounced “threats” from Israel to against this agency.

Australia, Canada and Italy suspended their funding to UNRWA on Saturday, after the United States announced the day before that it would suspend all future funding.

Flooded camps

Khan Younes, the largest city in southern Gaza considered by Israel to be a Hamas stronghold, is now at the heart of the war.

Violent clashes took place in the city on Saturday, according to witnesses interviewed by AFP. The Hamas Ministry of Health announced that 135 people were killed overnight.

The fighting is raging particularly around the city's two main hospitals, Nasser and al-Amal, which are only operating slowly and which shelter sick people but also thousands of displaced people.

A few kilometers further south, tens of thousands of civilians are massed in Rafah, stuck in a very small perimeter against the closed border with Egypt. In total, around 1.7 million civilians have fled their homes since the start of the war, according to the UN.

During the night, torrential rains flooded the tent camps, adding to the distress of the displaced people who were trampling in the muddy water while trying to save some belongings, according to AFP images.

“Heavy rains flood thousands of displaced people in Rafah, Khan Younes” as well as in Nouseirat, Deir el-Balah and Gaza City, further north, said Civil Defense spokesperson Mahmoud Bassal .

Hospitals under threat

The attack by Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel, resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to a count of AFP based on official Israeli figures.

In response, Israel vowed to “annihilate” Hamas, in power in Gaza since 2007, and launched a vast military operation which left 26,257 people dead, the vast majority of them women, children and adolescents, according to an updated report on Saturday from the movement's Ministry of Health.

“Massive tank fire has been targeting the western sectors of the city, the Khan Younès refugee camp and the surroundings of the Nasser hospital since the morning,” where they caused “a power cut,” said Saturday the Hamas government.

The “surgical capacity” of the Nasser hospital is “virtually non-existent” and the “few members of the medical staff who remain must contend with very low stocks of medical equipment,” according to Doctors Without Borders.

“Hundreds of patients and healthcare workers” from this hospital “fled. There are currently 350 patients and 5,000 displaced people remaining in the hospital,” added Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization.

“The hospital is running out of fuel, food and supplies,” he added, calling for an “immediate ceasefire.”

No “imminent” announcement

The highest court of the UN, at the request of South Africa, called on Israel on Friday to prevent any possible act of “genocide” in Gaza, an accusation considered “scandalous” by Israel .

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), which has no means to enforce its decisions, also called on Israel to take “immediate measures” to let humanitarian aid into Gaza.

With the war showing no respite, Qatar, Egypt and the United States are attempting to mediate a new truce, which would include the release of Palestinian hostages and prisoners.

Some 250 people were kidnapped in Israel during the October 7 attack and taken to Gaza, around 100 of whom were released in late November during a truce in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. According to Israeli authorities, 132 hostages are still being held in the Gaza Strip, of whom 28 are presumed dead.

The head of the CIA, the American intelligence service, will meet “in the next few days in Paris” with his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, as well as the Qatari Prime Minister, to try to conclude an agreement on truce, a security source told AFP on Friday.

US President Joe Biden discussed with Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani the “latest events in Israel and Gaza, including efforts to free hostages kidnapped by Hamas,” the House announced Friday Blanche, while suggesting that no “imminent” announcement was to be expected.

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Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116