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Israel presses on with Gaza bombardments, including in areas where it told civilians to flee

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Rafah (Gaza Strip), Dec 9: Israeli warplanes struck parts of the Gaza Strip overnight into Saturday in relentless bombardments, including some of the dwindling slivers of land Palestinians had been told to evacuate to in the territory’s south.

The latest strikes came a day after the United States vetoed a United Nations resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, despite it being backed by the vast majority of Security Council members and many other nations. The vote in the 15-member council was 13-1, with the United Kingdom abstaining.

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“Attacks from air, land and sea are intense, continuous and widespread,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said before the vote. Gaza residents “are being told to move like human pinballs – ricocheting between ever-smaller slivers of the south, without any of the basics for survival.”

Guterres told the council that Gaza was at “a breaking point” with the humanitarian support system at risk of total collapse, and that he feared “the consequences could be devastating for the security of the entire region.”

Gaza’s borders with Israel and with Egypt are effectively sealed, leaving Palestinians with no option other than to try to seek refuge within the territory. The overall death toll in Gaza since the start of the war has surpassed 17,400, the majority of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, accusing the militants of using civilians as human shields, and says it’s made considerable efforts with its evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way.

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On Saturday, Gaza residents reported airstrikes and shelling in the northern part of the strip as well as in the south, including the city of Rafah, which lies near the Egyptian border and where the Israeli army had ordered civilians to evacuate to.

The main hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah received the bodies of 71 people killed in bombings in the area over the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said Saturday morning. The hospital also received 160 wounded, the ministry said. In the southern city of Khan Younis, the bodies of 62 people and another 99 wounded were taken to Nasser Hospital over the past 24 hours, the ministry said.

Israel has been trying to secure the military’s hold on northern Gaza, where furious fighting has underscored heavy resistance from the territory’s Hamas rulers. Tens of thousands of residents are believed to remain in the area despite evacuation orders, six weeks after troops and tanks rolled in during the war sparked by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 raid targeting civilians in Israel.

About 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the Hamas raid, and more than 240 people taken hostage. A temporary truce saw hostages and Palestinian prisoners released, but more than 130 hostages are believed to remain in Gaza.

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More than 2,200 Palestinians have been killed since the Dec. 1 collapse of the truce, about two-thirds women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Despite growing international pressure, the Biden administration remains opposed to an open-ended cease-fire, arguing it would enable Hamas to survive and pose a threat to Israel. Officials have expressed misgivings in recent days about the rising civilian death toll and dire humanitarian crisis, but have not pushed publicly for Israel to wind down the war, now in its third month.

“We have not given a firm deadline to Israel, not really our role,” deputy national security adviser Jon Finer told a security forum a day before the U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council. “That said, we do have influence, even if we don’t have ultimate control over what happens on the ground in Gaza.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant argued a cease-fire would be a victory for Hamas. “A cease-fire is handing a prize to Hamas, dismissing the hostages held in Gaza, and signalling terror groups everywhere,” he said. “Stand with Israel in our mission – we are fighting for our future, and we are fighting for the free world.”

As fighting resumed after a brief truce more than a week ago, the U.S. urged Israel to do more to protect civilians and allow more aid to besieged Gaza. The appeals came as Israel expanded its blistering air and ground campaign into southern Gaza, especially the southern city of Khan Younis, sending tens of thousands more fleeing.

“It was a night of heavy gunfire and shelling as every night,” Taha Abdel-Rahman, a Khan Younis resident, said by phone early Saturday.

Gaza’s Civil Defense Department said at least one person was killed late Friday in Rafah and others wounded in an airstrike on a family home.

The department posted images showing first responders and residents using flashlights and the light from cell phones to search the rubble of the house for potential survivors. One crane was seen removing the rubble while rescuers cut through iron poles amid collapsed concrete roofs.

Airstrikes were reported overnight in the Nuseirat refugee camp, where resident Omar Abu Moghazi said a strike hit a family home, causing casualties.

There were also airstrikes and shelling in Gaza City and other northern parts of the strip.

“It’s a routine,” Mohamed Abded, who lives in Gaza City’s Zaytoun neighborhood, said of the bombardment. “You have only one option: leave or they will kill you. That’s the case across the north.”

Israel has designated a narrow patch of barren coastline in the south, Muwasi, as a safe zone. But Palestinians who have headed there portrayed a grim picture of desperately overcrowded conditions with scant shelter and poor hygiene facilities.

“We didn’t see anything good here at all. We are living here in a tough cold. There are no bathrooms. We are sleeping on the sand,” said Soad Qarmoot, a Palestinian woman who was forced to leave her home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya.

“I am a cancer patient,” Qarmoot said late Friday as children circled a wood fire for warmth. “There is no mattress for me to sleep on. I am sleeping on the sand. It’s freezing.”

Imad al-Talateeny, a displaced man from Gaza City, said the area lacks basic services to accommodate the growing number of displaced families.

“I lack everything to feel a human,” he said, adding that he had a peaceful, comfortable life before the war in Gaza City.

“Here I’m not safe,” he said. “Here I live in a desert. There is no gas, no water. The water that we drink is polluted water.” (AP)

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