Palestinians in Gaza, now cut off from communication with the rest of the world, were enduring another night of hell late Saturday as Israel intensified its bombardments across the territory over the last day.
Israel continued to intensively bomb the northern and eastern areas of the Gaza Strip late Saturday, particularly in Beit Hanoun, while Palestinian resistance continued to fire rockets towards Israel, reaching as far as Tel Aviv and Ashkelon.
The United Nations said on Saturday evening that “fragmented information available indicates that the past 24 hours … have witnessed the most intense Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling” since the military campaign began on 7 October.The Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said on Saturday that its forces hit an armored Israeli vehicle with an anti-tank missile east of al-Shujaiyeh near Gaza City: Qassam said that was repulsing the occupation’s ground forces in Gaza as Israeli leaders declared that the battle, now in its third week, was an existential one for the Jewish state in Palestine.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, made a declaration on Saturday that many observers said demonstrated the intent to annihilate Palestinians not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank and Israel.
Netanyahu invoked scripture that calls for the total destruction of the enemy, sparing no man, woman or child:“Our brave troops and combatants who are now in Gaza, or Gaza and all other regions in Israel are joining this chain of Jewish heroes,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu added that “there are times a nation faces two options – to exist or to cease. We are now in such a test.”
He added that the war will be “long and hard, and we are ready. It is our second War of Independence.”
Palestinians and other observers interpreted that to mean a second Nakba – the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the dispossession of the homeland before, during and after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.Netanyahu’s comments were echoed by Yoav Gallant, the Israeli defense minister, saying that “it will not be a short war. It will be a long war.” Gallant added that “it is us or them.”
Hamas meanwhile vowed that Gaza would be “a graveyard for the invaders,” and that the era of Israel’s arrogance and bloodshed “without accountability has totally ended.”
The group added “the Israeli army will not be able to restore” its reputation of deterrence and qualitative military edge “after their defeat on 7 October.”
Abu Obeida, the spokesperson for the Qassam Brigades, said on Saturday that “we don’t ask the Arab armies to protect us, we will do it ourselves with what we have built from scratch and created from the impossible.”
More than 8,000 killed in Gaza
Massive protests in solidarity with the Palestinian people were held all around the globe on Saturday as the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said that more than 8,000 people have been killed in the territory since 7 October.
Nearly 3,200 children are among those killed in Gaza, though the actual death toll is likely much higher, as an estimated 1,000 children are reported missing under the rubble of destroyed buildings.
António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said on Saturday that he had been encouraged “by what seemed to be a growing consensus in the international community, including countries supporting Israel, for the need of at least a humanitarian pause in the fighting.”But instead of pausing its relentless bombardment, Israel intensified its attacks after apparently knocking out communication services in Gaza, with international aid and media organizations saying they have lost contact with their staff in the territory.
“I was surprised by an unprecedented escalation of the bombardments and their devastating impacts, undermining the referred humanitarian objectives,” Guterres said.
Volker Türk, the UN human rights chief, said on Saturday that Israel’s bombardments and ground operations overnight were “taking this terrible crisis to a new level of violence and pain.”
Türk warned “about the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza and the potential for thousands more civilians to die.”
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, said on Friday that in addition to those killed by “bombs and strikes,” many more will soon die as a result of Israel’s complete siege on Gaza.
Israel rejected Friday’s call from the UN General Assembly for a pause in the bombing amid a worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.
The US was reportedly working behind the scenes to secure fuel for Gaza’s hospitals, where thousands of lives are dependent on the continued operation of emergency generators.
The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Saturday that “critical services like healthcare, water and electricity must be immediately restored in Gaza as a lifesaving priority.”
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said late in the day that “the telecommunications shutdown has brought the already challenging delivery of humanitarian assistance to a complete halt and is depriving people of life-saving information.”
Türk said that “the bombing of the telecommunications infrastructure places the civilian population in grave danger.”
The UN human rights chief added that “ambulances and civil defense teams are no longer able to locate the injured, or the thousands of people estimated to be still under the rubble.”The UN said on Saturday that “all crossings [to Gaza] have remained closed,” with only 84 trucks carrying aid entering in the past week – a fraction of the average of 500 trucks per day transporting commodities and goods before 7 October.
“Entry of desperately needed fuel remains banned by the Israeli authorities,” the UN added.
Israel delays Gaza aid
Israel is meanwhile delaying the transfer of urgently needed aid into Gaza.
The Egyptian group Sinai for Human Rights said on Saturday that Israel rejected a proposal from Cairo to allow supervisors from the UN or the US and Israeli surveillance cameras to monitor the transfer of aid to Gaza via Rafah crossing.
Instead, Israel insisted that all shipments be inspected by its authorities at Nitzana crossing, delaying the delivery of aid by as much as two days.
An Egyptian trader told Sinai for Human Rights that inspection at Nitzana usually doesn’t take more than five hours and is usually done electronically.
But a photo posted on Twitter, now known as X, by a commentator for Israel’s state broadcaster showed soldiers manually inspecting aid destined for Gaza, suggesting that the military is deliberately prolonging the wait time at the crossing.
“The new mechanism has tightened the siege” on Gaza, Sinai for Human Rights said.
The group alleged that Rafah crossing was being used as a bargaining chip in “negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage negotiations,” with Israel imposing collective punishment on civilians in Gaza “to pressure Hamas into accepting Israeli conditions.”
A Hamas official said on Friday that the release of the captured civilians it has been holding in Gaza since 7 October is contingent on a ceasefire.
Abu Obeida, the Qassam Brigades spokesperson, said on Saturday that the group had nearly reached a prisoner swap agreement with Israel, but the latter had “stalled” on a deal.
Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, made his first statement in months on Saturday, saying that the group was ready to hand over “all prisoners held by the Palestinian resistance” in exchange for all of the thousands of Palestinians held by Israel.
Sinwar called on all institutions and organizations focused on Palestinian prisoners to prepare lists of everyone held by the occupation “and to stay ready for any development” in the near future.
Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’ politburo, told Russian state media on Saturday that the group was looking for eight people with Russian citizenship that Moscow believes are being held in Gaza.
“We are very attentive to this list and we will handle it carefully because we look at Russia as our closest friend,” media cited Marzouk as saying.
“And as soon as we find them, we will release them. Despite the difficulties due to the current situation,” he added.
Family members of some of the more than 200 people who were captured and brought to Gaza on 7 October said that they were anxious and frustrated as their loved ones were subjected to the same deadly bombardment as Palestinians in the territory.
The mother of a woman who was captured at the site of the Nova trance festival said that the families of the captives “believed that a swap deal that would see the release of all Palestinian prisoners in Israel in return for all the hostages would win wide public support,” Reuters reported.During a meeting with Netanyahu on Saturday, representatives of the families of captives in Gaza urged the Israeli prime minister to agree to an “everyone for everyone” exchange with Hamas.
Hamas has so far released four captives and has said that another 50 had been killed in Israeli strikes.