Dire Humanitarian Conditions In Gaza Grow Worse As Israel Widens Its Offensive | World News

JERUSALEM: Israel’s widening air and ground offensive in southern Gaza has displaced tens of thousands more Palestinians and worsened the territory’s dire humanitarian conditions, with the fighting preventing distribution of food, water and medicine outside a sliver of southern Gaza and new military evacuation orders squeezing people into ever-smaller areas of the south.

Here’s what’s happening in the war:

LEAFLETS IN KHAN YOUNIS

Khan Younis (Gaza Strip): Residents of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza and the latest focus of the Israeli military’s ground offensive, say the army has showered the area with leaflets quoting a verse in the Quran. Palestinians deciding whether to flee Khan Younis as Israeli tanks draw closer viewed the quoted verse, “The flood overtook them as they were wrongdoers,” as an ominous portent.

The Israeli military had no immediate comment when asked about the leaflet drop. Journalist Aamer Tabsh in Khan Younis said he saw Israeli planes drop thousands of the fliers. Tabsh said residents are convinced the reference to the epic flood of Noah in the Quran and Bible “means that something much worse is coming”.

Some are linking it to Hamas’ name for its Oct 7 attack against Israel, Al Aqsa Flood Battle. Others pointed to recent reports that the Israeli military was considering flooding Hamas’ subterranean tunnel network with seawater to force out the militants.

JERUSALEM MARCH PLANNED FOR THURSDAY

Jerusalem: Ultranationalist Jews plan to march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday in a demonstration that risks igniting new violence in the holy city.

Israeli police on Wednesday confirmed that they gave permission for a march of 200 people to pass through the Muslim Quarter and through the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews can pray. The march coincides with the start of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

Ultranationalist activists have called on supporters to honour the memory of fallen soldiers who died in the latest Gaza war and to push for expanded Jewish access to Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

Jews call the site the Temple Mount, the spot where the biblical Temples once stood. Muslims call it the Noble Sanctuary, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. Police said Thursday’s march not enter the compound.

Former Jerusalem police Chief Yair Yitzhaki told Army Radio he couldn’t understand why police approved the march. He added that the route through the Muslim Quarter was “an attempt to anger and inflame the area”. Jerusalem has been the site of multiple Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks since Israel’s war with Hamas began on Oct 7.

A similar march in 2021 boiled over into an 11-day Gaza war.

ISRAEL WARNS IT WILL NOT RENEW UN OFFICIAL’S VISA Tel Aviv

Israel’s foreign minister has warned that he will not renew the residency visa of the top UN humanitarian coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, saying she failed to condemn Hamas for its Oct 7 attack on Israel and emerging reports of sexual violence by Hamas against Israelis. “We will no longer be silent in the face of the bias of the UN!” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen wrote Tuesday on X, formerly called Twitter.

Lynn Hastings, a veteran UN official, serves as the UN resident coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory. She has been outspoken in criticising Israel’s handling of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza during the Israel-Hamas war which was triggered by Hamas’ Oct 7 attack.

Cohen has previously threatened not to renew Hastings’ visa, which expires next week, and has grown more vocal in recent days.

Stepane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN secretary-general, said late last week that his office was aware of Cohen’s decision not to renew the visa, and that as a matter of policy, UN personnel do not overstay their visas. He criticised Cohen’s social media posts, saying that “personal attacks on UN personnel anywhere around the world” are unacceptable and endanger lives.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said on Wednesday that the UN takes the allegations of sexual violence by members of Hamas during its attack on Israel “extremely seriously”.

UN HUMAN RIGHTS CHIEF URGES IMMEDIATE CEASE-FIRE Geneva

The UN human rights chief is demanding that the international community immediately push “with one voice” for a cease-fire in Gaza as the plight of civilians deepens. “Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said at a news conference in Geneva. “As an immediate step, I call for an urgent cessation of hostilities and the release of all hostages.” He added: “The international community needs to insist with one voice on a cease-fire, immediately, on human rights and humanitarian grounds.” 

Türk said that, as more information emerges on allegations of sexual violence by members of Hamas and other Palestinian groups in their attack on Israel in October, “it is painfully clear that these attacks need to be fully investigated to ensure justice for the victims.” While investigators are trying to determine the scope of the sexual assaults, Israel’s government is accusing the international community, particularly the UN, of ignoring the pain of Israeli victims.

Türk said he asked Israeli authorities in October for permission to deploy a team to investigate the attacks on Israelis, and has repeated the request, but hasn’t received a response. “We need to ensure that justice is served, because that’s what we owe the victims,” he said. Türk also expressed “grave concern regarding dehumanising and inciteful statements made by current and former high-level Israeli officials, as well as Hamas figures,” without citing specific comments or people.

“History has shown us where this kind of language can lead,” he said. “This is not just unacceptable, but a competent court may view such statements, in the circumstances in which they were made, as incitement to atrocity crimes.”

COUNTRIES OFFER TO STORE AID IN CYPRUS FOR SHIPMENT TO GAZA Nicosia

Cyprus says a number of countries have offered to store humanitarian assistance in the east Mediterranean island nation as part of a plan to ship the aid to Gaza via a maritime corridor. The countries include the UK, which last week sent humanitarian aid that is being stored at Larnaca port, from where ships will depart for Gaza once conditions on the ground in the territory allow for it, government spokesperson Constantinos Letymbiotis said Wednesday.

He said the UK has also offered a shallow-draft ship capable of approaching Gaza’s shoreline, where it would be able to offload the aid without the need for port facilities required by large vessels. Earlier this week, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said he held talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who reaffirmed their support for the aid corridor. Israel has also backed the plan but has given no indication yet when the aid could begin to flow.

Last month, Christodoulides told The Associated Press that the proposed maritime corridor of about 230 miles (370 km) is the “only one currently being discussed on an international level” as a feasible way to significantly supplement the trickle of aid getting into the enclave through Egypt’s Rafah border checkpoint.

ERDOGAN WARNS ISRAEL NOT TO ATTACK HAMAS ON TURKISH SOIL Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Israel that there would be serious consequences if Israel pressed ahead with a threat to attack Hamas officials on Turkish soil. The Turkish leader also said his country has petitioned the International Criminal Court for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes in Gaza.

His comments — made Tuesday and reported by Turkish media on Wednesday — echoed warnings from other Turkish officials in response to the head of Israel’s domestic security agency, Shin Bet, who said in an audio recording that his organisation is prepared to destroy Hamas “in every place,” including in Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar.

Erdogan also said thousands of lawyers from various countries were employed to petition the ICC. “We brought the war crimes committed in Gaza to the court’s agenda and we will be following up on this,” Erdogan said. “Netanyahu will not be able to evade paying the penalty for his actions. Sooner or later, he will be tried and will pay the price for the war crimes he committed.”

GAZA’S HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS WAR DEATH TOLL IS OVER 16,200 Khan Younis (Gaza Strip)

The Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says 16,248 Palestinians have been killed and more than 42,000 wounded since the Israel-Hamas war broke out two months ago.

The ministry said Tuesday evening that the death toll included more than 6,000 children and more than 4,000 women. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants. The figures show a sharp rise in deaths since a weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed on Dec 1. Since the resumption of fighting Friday, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed, according to the Health Ministry.

The United States had urged Israel to do more to protect Palestinian civilians as its blistering air and ground campaign shifted to southern Gaza, particularly in and around Khan Younis, the territory’s second largest city.

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