(AP) — Israel on Tuesday bombed areas of southern Gaza where it had told Palestinians to flee to ahead of an expected invasion, killing dozens of people.
Meanwhile, mediators struggled to break a deadlock over delivering aid to millions of increasingly desperate civilians in the territory, which has been besieged and under assault by Israel since a brutal attack by Hamas militants.
Flaring violence along Israel’s border with Lebanon also led to concerns over a widening regional conflict that diplomats were working to prevent.
In Gaza, people wounded in the airstrikes were rushed to the hospital after heavy attacks outside the southern Gaza cities of Rafah and Khan Younis, residents reported. Basem Naim, a senior Hamas official and former health minister, reported 27 people were killed in Rafah and 30 in Khan Younis.
An Associated Press reporter saw around 50 bodies brought to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis. Family members came to claim the bodies, wrapped in white bedsheets, some soaked in blood.
An airstrike in Deir al Balah reduced a house to rubble, killing nine members of the family living there. Three members of another family that had evacuated from Gaza City were killed in a neighbouring home. The dead included one man and 11 women and children. Witnesses said there was no warning before the strike.
The Israeli military said it was targeting Hamas hideouts, infrastructure and command centers.
“When we see a target, when we see something moving that is Hamas, we’ll take care of it. We’ll handle it,” said Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman.
Israel has sealed off and bombed Hamas-ruled Gaza since the militant attack on southern Israel October 7 killed over 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and left about 200 captive in Gaza.
Israeli strikes have killed at least 2,778 people and wounded 9,700 others in Gaza, according to the Health Ministry. Nearly two-thirds of the dead were children, said Medhat Abbas, a Gaza Health Ministry official. The strikes have not stopped Hamas militants from continuing to barrage Israel with rockets launched from Gaza.
Another 1,200 people across Gaza are believed buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said. Emergency teams struggled to rescue people while cut off from the internet and mobile networks, running out of fuel and exposed to unceasing airstrikes. On Monday Israeli warplanes struck the headquarters of the Civil Defense in Gaza City, killing seven paramedics. Another 10 medics and doctors have been killed on the job, health authorities said.
Israel has massed troops at the border for an expected ground offensive, but Hecht said Tuesday no concrete decisions have been made.
“These plans are being developed. They will be decided by, and presented to, our political leadership,” he said.
Airstrikes, dwindling supplies, and Israel’s mass evacuation order for the north of the Gaza Strip has thrown the tiny territory’s 2.3 million people into upheaval and desperation.
More than 1 million Palestinians have fled their homes, and 60 per cent are now in the approximately 14-kilometre (8-mile) long area south of the evacuation zone, the UN said.
Aid workers warned that the territory was near complete collapse as hospitals were on the verge of losing electricity, threatening the lives of thousands of patients, and hundreds of thousands of people searched for bread and water.