Israel-Hamas conflict: Israeli strikes on Gaza intensify as humanitarian crisis deepens

Diplomatic efforts to arrange a ceasefire to let aid reach the besieged Gaza Strip failed on Monday (local time), and Israel ordered the evacuation of villages in a strip of territory near its border with Lebanon, raising fears the war could spread to a new front.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, after its fighters burst across the barrier surrounding the enclave on Oct. 7, gunning down 1,300 Israelis, mainly civilians, in the deadliest day in Israel's 75-year history.

It has put Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, under a total blockade and pounded it with unprecedented air strikes, and is widely expected to launch a ground assault. Gaza authorities say at least 2,750 people have been killed there, including mainly civilians.

According to the United Nations, a million Gazans have already been driven from their homes. Power is out, sanitary water is scarce, and the last fuel for emergency generators could be used up within a day.

Residents said overnight air strikes were the heaviest yet, and the bombing carried on through the day.

"We were inside the house when we found bodies scattering, flying in the air - bodies of children who have nothing to do with the war," said resident Abed Rabayaa, whose neighbour's house in Khan Younis, the main city in the southern part of the enclave, was hit overnight.

In the biggest sign yet that the war could spread to a new front, Israel ordered the evacuation on Monday of 28 villages in a two km-deep zone near its Lebanese border. Lebanon's Hezbollah movement said it had targeted five Israeli positions.

The past week has already seen the deadliest clashes in the border area since a major 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, which, like Hamas, is an ally of Iran.

In a speech to parliament, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israelis should prepare for a long battle, and delivered a warning to Tehran and Hezbollah in which he referred to the 2006 war, which displaced a million Lebanese.

"Now we are focused on one target: to unite forces and charge forward to victory. This requires determination because victory will take time," he said.

"And I have a message for Iran and Hezbollah, don't test us in the north. Don't make the same mistake you once made. Because today the price you will pay will be much heavier."


The 10 days of strikes so far have failed to eliminate Hamas' capability to fire rockets into Israel, where warning sirens sounded. Hamas said it fired a barrage at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Diplomatic efforts have concentrated on getting aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the sole route out that is not controlled by Israel.

Egypt said Israel was not cooperating, leaving hundreds of tonnes of supplies stuck.

"There is an urgent need to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza," Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters, adding talks with Israel on opening Rafah for aid had so far been fruitless.

Washington has also been focusing on getting the crossing briefly opened to allow some of the few hundred Gazans with U.S. passports to leave. Shoukry said Egypt could allow medical evacuations and let in some Gazans with permission to travel.

There has been no public talk, however, of Egypt accepting a mass influx of refugees, meaning the vast majority of Gazans are unlikely to be offered a route out. Egypt and other Arab states say a mass exodus would be unacceptable because it would amount to the expulsion of Palestinians from their land.

Those trying to reach the crossing inside Gaza described the route as perilous and under attack.

"On our way to the crossing they shelled Rafah Street and we started screaming," said one resident near the crossing, Hadeel Abu Dahoud. "Nowhere is safe in Gaza. Wherever we go there's shelling, shelling, crying, screaming, blood."

Israel has said more than a million people in the northern half of the enclave must head to the southern half for their safety. While tens of thousands have complied and fled, the United Nations says there is no way to move so many people without causing a humanitarian catastrophe; Hamas has told them to stay put.

With each day of air strikes, Gazans have been clawing at the rubble of flattened buildings with bare hands to rescue neighbours and recover the dead, with virtually no mechanical equipment to clear away the wreckage.

Civil emergency officer Abid Saqir told Reuters at one bomb site that there were at least 1,000 bodies trapped under rubble at locations across the enclave.

Mohammad Abu Saleema, director of the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, said those seriously wounded must be sent to hospitals outside Gaza or there would be no room for more wounded to be treated.

Cairo says the Rafah crossing is not officially closed but is inoperable due to Israeli strikes on the Gaza side. U.S. officials were still hoping Rafah would operate for a few hours later on Monday, White House spokesman John Kirby said, though earlier hopes had been dashed.

Early on Monday, two Egyptian security sources had told Reuters a temporary ceasefire in southern Gaza had been agreed to last several hours to facilitate aid and evacuations at Rafah. However, Egyptian state TV later quoted an unnamed, high-level source as saying that no truce had been agreed. Israel and Hamas both denied reports of a deal to open the crossing.

On the ground at Rafah, one source said the Egyptian side of the crossing was ready. Hundreds of tonnes of aid from agencies and donor countries was waiting on trucks in the nearby Egyptian town of Al-Arish for clearance to enter.

"We are waiting for the green light for the aid to enter and dozens of volunteers are ready at any time," a Red Crescent official in northern Sinai said.