Ambush kills 9 Israeli soldiers in Gaza City, where battles rage weeks into devastating offensive
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian militants ambushed Israeli troops in a dense Gaza City neighbourhood, killing at least nine of them, the military said Wednesday, as Hamas put up stiff resistance in areas that Israel has isolated and pounded with airstrikes for over two months.
The air and ground war has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and pushed nearly 85 per cent of Gaza’s population from their homes, sparking international outrage. The United States has repeatedly called on Israel to take greater measures to spare civilians, even as it has blocked international calls for a cease-fire and rushed military aid to its close ally.
More than six weeks after Israeli soldiers invaded Gaza’s north in the wake of Hamas’ October 7 attack, ground troops are still locked in heavy combat with Palestinian fighters in and around Gaza City. Clashes raged overnight and into Wednesday in multiple areas, with especially heavy fighting in Shijaiyah, a dense neighbourhood that was the scene of a major battle during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
“It’s terrifying. We couldn’t sleep,” Mustafa Abu Taha, a Palestinian agricultural worker who lives in the neighbourhood, said by phone. “The situation is getting worse and we don’t have a safe place to go.”
Troops who were searching a cluster of buildings in Shijaiyah on Tuesday lost communication with four soldiers who had come under fire, the military said. When the other soldiers launched a rescue operation, they were ambushed with heavy gunfire and explosives.
Among the nine dead were Colonel Itzhak Ben Basat, 44, the most senior officer to have been killed in the ground operation, and Lieutenant Colonel Tomer Grinberg, a battalion commander.
Heavy rainfall overnight swamped tent camps in Gaza’s south, where Israel has told people to seek refuge, even as that region has also come under repeated aerial bombardment.
In the central city of Deir al-Balah, the storm brought cold winds and flooded a shelter area behind a hospital, sending torrents of water coursing between the tents. “The situation is catastrophic,” said Ibrahim Arafat, a father of 13 who fled Shijaiyah.
Because of the fighting and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the health care system and humanitarian aid operations have collapsed in large parts of the territory, and aid workers have warned of starvation and the spread of disease among displaced people.
Israeli strikes overnight hit two residential buildings in the southern province of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces had launched a new line of attack earlier this month.
A strike on a home near the main highway between Khan Younis and the southern border town of Rafah killed two boys, aged two and eight, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 30s, according to Mohammed al-Beiyouk, a relative of the deceased. Another strike killed a baby and his grandfather, according to hospital records at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.
The military rarely comments on individual strikes. Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high toll on Hamas because it conceals fighters, tunnels and weapons in residential areas.
United States (US) President Joe Biden said Tuesday that he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” and that Netanyahu should change his government, which is dominated by hard-right parties.
But the offensive is being conducted by a war Cabinet that includes two politically centrist retired generals, and has overwhelming support among Israelis from across the political spectrum.
In Israel, attention is still focused on the atrocities carried out on October 7, when some 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and some 240 people were taken hostage, around half of whom remain in captivity. The military says 115 soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive.
There has been little media coverage or public discussion of the plight of civilians in Gaza, even as international outrage has continued to mount.
On Tuesday, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian cease-fire. The nonbinding vote was symbolic, but served as a barometer of world opinion. None of the major powers joined Israel and the United States in their opposition.
Still, the US has urged Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties as the toll has continued to mount at a dizzying rate.
Over 18,400 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, whose counts from previous conflicts have tracked with Israeli and UN figures. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but says roughly two-thirds of the dead are women and minors.