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Saturday, July 13, 2024

FIGHTING RAGES IN NORTHERN GAZA; BIDEN SPEAKS WITH NETANYAHU

Date:

CAIRO/JERUSALEM, (REUTERS) – Israel battled Hamas militants on Saturday in pursuit of its elusive goal of full control of northern Gaza after the U.N. Security Council appealed for more aid for the Palestinian enclave but stopped short of demanding a ceasefire.

Thick smoke hung over the northern town of Jabalia and residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks, which they said had moved further into the town.

Hamas’ armed wing Al Qassam Brigades said it had destroyed five Israeli tanks in the area, killing and injuring their crews, after reusing two undetonated missiles launched earlier by Israel. Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Israel’s chief military spokesperson said on Friday that its forces had achieved almost complete operational control of northern Gaza and were preparing to expand the ground offensive to other areas in the Strip, with a focus on the south.

U.S. President Joe Biden discussed the situation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, the White House said. Israel’s main ally has kept up its support while expressing concern over the growing casualty toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Biden declined to detail his conversation with Netanyahu, telling reporters it was a “private conversation.”

But, he added: “I did not ask for a ceasefire.”

After days of wrangling to avert a threatened U.S. veto, the U.N. Security Council on Friday passed a resolution urging steps to allow “safe, unhindered, and expanded humanitarian access” to Gaza and “conditions for a sustainable cessation” of fighting.

The resolution was toned down from earlier drafts that called for an immediate end to 11 weeks of war and diluting Israeli control over aid deliveries, clearing the way for the vote in which the United States, Israel’s main ally, abstained.

The United States and Israel oppose a ceasefire, contending it would allow the Islamist militant group to regroup and rearm.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said earlier on Saturday they had fired decoy shots in the area of Issa in Gaza City that lured dozens of militants from a building that served as a Hamas headquarters in the north of the enclave.

“IDF ground and intelligence troops directed an IAF fighter jet to strike the building, eliminating the terrorists,” it said.

The army also released a video it said showed Hamas tunnels in the Issa area. Reuters could not independently verify the location or the date. Israel accuses the militant group of placing tunnels and other military infrastructure among civilians to use them as human shields, something Hamas denies.

Later on Saturday, residents and Palestinian media reported that Israeli tanks shelled the town of Juhr ad-Deek in central Gaza. There was no immediate word on casualties.

At least 201 Palestinians have been killed over the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 20,258 during the 11-week conflict, the Palestinian health ministry said on Saturday, with thousands more bodies believed trapped under rubble. Almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.

Israel said on Saturday that 146 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched its ground incursion on Oct. 20 in response to an Oct. 7 rampage into Israel by Gaza’s ruling Hamas militants, who killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages back into the enclave.

“We shall press ahead, for every fallen soldier, too. Until Hamas is eliminated. Until the hostages are returned,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz, a member of the security cabinet, posted on X.

Hamas said on Saturday it had lost contact with a group it said was responsible for five of the Israeli hostages due to Israeli bombardment. An Israeli military spokesperson described the statement as “psychological terrorism” from Hamas.

Health officials and Hamas media said an Israeli air strike on a house in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three people including a journalist of Hamas’ Aqsa TV channel and two relatives.

The Israeli military said it would never deliberately target journalists. It expresses regret for civilian deaths and blames Iran-backed Hamas for operating in densely populated areas, arguing that Israel will never be safe until the group is eliminated.

Hamas’ Aqsa radio later said Israeli planes had bombed and destroyed the headquarters of Aqsa TV and radio station in Gaza City.

An IDF spokesperson declined to comment on Palestinian reports that Israeli forces had begun a ground offensive near Kerem Shalom, east of the Rafah Crossing into Egypt.

‘THEY BOMB DAY AND NIGHT’

Israel has long urged residents to leave northern areas of Gaza but its forces have also been bombarding targets in central and southern parts of the tiny coastal enclave.

“They ask people to head to (the central Gaza city of) Deir Al-Balah, where they bomb day and night,” Ziad, a medic and father of six, told Reuters by phone.

Palestinian mourners attended the burial of a family of four killed in an Israeli airstrike on Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

“International law has collapsed… If Israel were in the Palestinians’ position, the world would not stand still and would act,” said Ramzy Aidy, a Gaza resident with a doctorate in law.

Hamas and its allies have fired rockets into Israel throughout the war, with most shot down. On Saturday, sirens sounded to the north and east of Gaza after two days of quiet.

The conflict has spread, including into the Red Sea where Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi forces have been attacking vessels with missiles and drones in retaliation for Israel’s assault on the enclave, whose Hamas rulers are backed by Iran.

An Israel-affiliated merchant vessel in the Arabian Sea off India’s west coast was struck by an unmanned aerial vehicle, causing a fire, British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Saturday.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said it had received a report of an incident in the vicinity of the Bab al-Mandab Strait, 45 nautical miles southwest of Saleef, Yemen.

An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said the Mediterranean Sea could be closed if the United States and its allies continued to commit “crimes” in Gaza, Iranian media reported on Saturday, without explaining how that would happen.

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