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Dhaka Tribune

Besieged Palestinians await aid trucks as Israel pounds Gaza

  • Several sheltered in Gaza killed
  • Cargo planes delivered stocks
  • Crossing would open Friday
Update : 20 Oct 2023, 10:54 AM

Palestinians in war-torn Gaza on Friday awaited emergency aid promised in a deal struck by US President Joe Biden, as Israel kept up its bombardment of targets in the Hamas-run enclave.

The Hamas-controlled interior ministry said several displaced people who had sheltered at a church compound in the Gaza Strip were killed and injured after an Israeli strike late Thursday.

Cargo planes delivered stocks including food and medicine, water purifiers and hygiene products to Egypt's El Arish airport, awaiting the opening of the Rafah border crossing to Gaza.

Egyptian state-linked broadcaster Al Qahera News said the crossing — the only one into and out of the besieged enclave not controlled by Israel — would open on Friday.

On a visit to Cairo, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there needed to be "rapid, unimpeded humanitarian access" after dire warnings about the impact of the sustained Israeli blockade.

"We need it at scale and we need it to be sustained, it is not one small operation that is required," he added.

In Geneva, the emergencies director of the World Health Organization called the deal struck by Biden with Israel and Egypt to allow in 20 trucks "a drop in the ocean of need".

"It should be 2,000 trucks," Michael Ryan said.

A relentless barrage of Israeli fire has hit Gaza in retaliation for a Hamas attack on October 7, which Israel said killed at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

Some 1,500 fighters were killed in clashes before the army regained control, the Israeli military said. 

Israeli bombing in turn has killed at least 3,785 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to the Gaza health ministry.

On Thursday, the Hamas-controlled interior ministry said an Israeli strike left a "large number of martyrs and injured" at the compound of the Greek Orthodox Saint Porphyrius Church.

Witnesses told AFP the strike appeared to have been aimed at a target close to the place of worship where many Gaza residents had taken refuge as the war raged in the Palestinian enclave.

They said the strike damaged the facade of the church and caused an adjacent building to collapse, adding that many injured people were evacuated to hospital.

The Israeli army when contacted told AFP it was checking the reported strike.

Entire city blocks have been levelled in Gaza, displacing more than one million of its 2.4 million people, the UN has said.

There are fears of worse to come if Israel launches an expected ground invasion to destroy Hamas and rescue more than 200 Israeli and foreign hostages.

'We're ready' 

Biden, on a flying visit to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet on Wednesday, reiterated strong US support for its long-time ally but also stressed the need to address the plight of Palestinian civilians.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday condemned what they said was the "collective punishment" of Gazans.

They also warned about the conflict spreading, with anger across the Middle East at Israel and its Western allies.

Sisi and Abdullah, whose countries were the first Arab states to make peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, are seen as key mediators between Israel and the Palestinians.

They had been due to have four-way talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Biden. But Amman cancelled the summit.

Cairo has so far kept the Rafah crossing closed, pointing to repeated Israeli strikes near the checkpoint and voicing fears that Israel may be hoping to permanently drive Palestinians out and into Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

The UN World Food Program said it has 951 tonnes of food at or on the way to Rafah – enough to feed 488,000 people for one week, a spokesperson said.

On the Gaza side of the border, scores of people waited, desperate to flee but mindful of any new Israeli shelling.

"We're ready with our bags," said one man who gave his name only as Mohammed, 40, and said he works for a European institution.

He said he had been waiting "for three days with my family, in a house 10 minutes away from the crossing" but had received no information so far.

Majed, 43, who said he works with a German organisation, told AFP: "I came on my own this morning and, in case the crossing opens, I'd get my wife and children – they're ready."

Israel united 

Biden, who will make a televised address later on Thursday about the Gaza and Ukraine conflicts, announced the aid deal after what he called "blunt" talks in Israel and a phone call with Sisi.

Israel consented to the deal while pressing on with its military campaign.

Its army reported Thursday that it had destroyed hundreds more Hamas targets, including a missile launch site and tunnels, and that "more than 10 terrorists were eliminated".

Netanyahu has vowed to crush Hamas after the worst attack in the country's 75-year history.

On Thursday he called Israel's fightback a "just war", adding: "I've never seen the people of Israel as united — more united — than they are now."

But intensifying cross-border fire between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon is stoking fears of a potential second front.

As tensions mounted, the United States, UK and Germany on Thursday advised their citizens to leave Lebanon while flights were still available.

The US State Department also issued a rare "worldwide caution" advisory for its citizens, citing terrorism and the potential for anti-American protests.

Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida called for protests at Israeli and US embassies, "to have them closed and their ambassadors expelled from all Arab and Muslim countries".

Hospital strike 

The Arab world has been united in anger and condemnation of Israel since a deadly strike hit a Gaza hospital compound on Tuesday.

Israel temporarily recalled its diplomats from Turkey as a security precaution and called on citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

Both sides in the war have traded blame for the bloody carnage, but neither the provenance of the strike nor the death toll could immediately be independently verified.

The strike left scores of bodies and charred cars at the Ahli Arab hospital compound in northern Gaza, AFP images showed.

Hamas accused Israel of hitting the hospital during its massive bombing campaign, with Gaza's health ministry putting the death toll at 471, though that number is contested.

Israel has blamed a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket — a version of events backed by the United States — and has pointed to the lack of a large impact crater typical of its air strikes, saying fuel from the errant rocket exploded.

The US intelligence community has estimated there were likely 100 to 300 people killed in the strike.

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