(AFP) – Bombing continued across Gaza on Friday as the United Nations warned Israel‘s war with militant group Hamas, now approaching its fourth month, had made the territory “uninhabitable”.
With much of the Gaza Strip already reduced to rubble, air strikes hit the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah as well as parts of central Gaza, AFP correspondents reported.
The Israeli army said its forces had “struck over 100 targets” across Gaza over the previous 24 hours, including military positions, rocket launch sites and weapons depots.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said it had recorded 162 deaths over the same period.
A fighter jet bombed the central area of Bureij overnight, killing “an armed terrorist cell”, the army said, after what it described as an attempted attack on an Israeli tank.
And “a number” of Palestinian militants were killed in clashes in Khan Yunis, a city that has become a major battleground, the army said.
Troops also uncovered tunnels under the Blue Beach Hotel in northern Gaza which had been used “by terrorists as shelter from where they planned and executed attacks”.
Civilian deaths have soared during the conflict and the UN has warned of a humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, facing famine and disease.
“Gaza has simply become uninhabitable,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said on Friday.
“Its people are witnessing daily threats to their very existence — while the world watches on,” he said in a statement.
– ‘Dark and gloomy’ –
The war was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel launched by Hamas on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
The militants also took around 250 hostages, 132 of whom remain in captivity, according to Israel, including at least 24 believed to have been killed.
At a commemorative gathering in southern Israel on Friday, Michael Levi, 41, whose brother Or Levi was kidnapped from a music festival, said “there’s a feeling none of us… can be safe in our own homes” since the attack.
In response, Israel has launched a relentless bombardment and ground invasion that have killed at least 22,600 people, most of them women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.
AFPTV footage on Friday showed entire families, seeking safety from the violence, arriving in Rafah in overloaded cars and on foot, pushing handcarts stacked with possessions.
“We fled Jabalia camp to Maan (in Khan Yunis) and now we are fleeing from Maan to Rafah,” said one woman who declined to give her name. “(We have) no water, no electricity and no food.”
A spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, told AFP that Rafah is overwhelmed by the influx.
“The city is usually home to only 250,000 persons. And now, it’s more than 1.3 million,” said Adnan Abu Hasna.
Abu Mohammed, 60, who fled to Rafah from Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, said he believed the future of the territory was “dark and gloomy and very difficult”.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported renewed shelling and drone fire in the area around Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis after seven displaced people, including a five-day-old baby, were killed while sheltering in the compound.
– Post-war plan –
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant presented Israel‘s first plan for the “day after”, though it has not yet been adopted by Israel‘s war cabinet.
The minister’s outline proposals released late on Thursday say that neither Israel nor Hamas will govern Gaza and reject future Jewish settlements in the territory.
According to the proposals, the war will continue until Israel has dismantled Hamas‘s “military and governing capabilities” and secured the return of hostages.
After Israel achieves its objectives — for which the proposal sets no timeline — Palestinian “civil committees” will begin assuming control of the territory’s governance.
The proposals were unveiled on the eve of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s fourth trip to the region since the conflict started.
Blinken arrived in Turkey on Friday on the first leg of a trip that will also take him to Greece and several Arab states before he heads to Israel and the occupied West Bank next week.
During his visit, Blinken plans to discuss with Israeli leaders “immediate measures to increase substantially humanitarian assistance to Gaza“, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
“We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy. There are obviously tough issues facing the region and difficult choices ahead,” he added.
– Regional tensions –
Germany’s top diplomat Annalena Baerbock will also travel to the region, a foreign ministry spokesman said.
She plans to discuss “the dramatic humanitarian situation in Gaza” and tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border, spokesman Sebastian Fischer said.
The war in Gaza and almost daily exchanges of cross-border fire between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group since October 7 have raised fears of a wider conflagration.
A strike on Tuesday in Lebanon, widely assumed to have been carried out by Israel, killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, warned Israel Friday that the group will swiftly respond “on the battlefield” to the killing.
Israel‘s Gallant responded by saying Israel “prefers a diplomatic path over a military one”, though he warned “we are close to the point of the hour glass turning over”.
The military said on Friday its fighter jets had conducted fresh strikes against Hezbollah targets just across the border.
Elsewhere in the region, thousands rallied in support of Gaza in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and the Jordanian capital Amman.
© Agence France-Presse