The Israeli military has completely encircled Gaza City, according to a spokesperson, as the United Nations’ main relief agency in the isolated enclave accused Israeli warplanes of lethally bombing UN-run schools sheltering civilians.
Nearly a week after Israel first began moving tanks, bulldozers, infantrymen and combat engineer units into Gaza, Israel Defense Force spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Thursday that Gaza City has been surrounded. The IDF’s engineering corps is working to locate and neutralize underground infrastructure, explosives and other threats so that troops can move freely, he said.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency meanwhile highlighted the civilian toll of the ongoing conflict, after agency chief Philippe Lazzarini announced that Israeli warplanes had hit several UN-run schools that had been sheltering civilians. More than 20 people were reportedly killed in the attacks, he said.
Chaos of the aftermath could be seen in a five-minute video posted to Telegram, which showed bloodied bodies strewn across the floor and people screaming at the UNRWA-sponsored Jabalya Elementary school.
The agency’s fuel stocks – crucial for moving aid and powering medical services – are also “completely completed” after weeks of an Israeli blockade on essential supplies entering Gaza, Lazzarini also said. UN independent experts have previously warned that the import blockade, which prevents fuel, water and food from entering in sufficient quantities, likely violates international law.
In total, Egypt is preparing to facilitate the evacuation of nearly 7,000 foreign citizens in Gaza from more than 60 countries via the Rafah Crossing, the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
Hamas’ political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, has proposed an immediate ceasefire including the exchange of prisoners and “opening of the political path to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
In a recorded video statement on Wednesday, Haniyeh said he had presented a “comprehensive vision” to end the war with Israel, but claimed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “deceiving” his people by convincing them they could defeat Hamas in Gaza.
‘Must be investigated as war crimes’
Israel’s weeks long bombardment of Gaza has killed at least 9,025 people and injured over 22,000, according to the latest figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.
The civilian casualties have continued to rise as Israel strikes large residential areas, schools and hospitals in Gaza, in what it says are military target strikes.
Amnesty International previously said it documented “unlawful Israeli attacks” that “must be investigated as war crimes.” On Friday, Human Rights Watch warned Israel’s ground assault “raises grave concerns for the safety of all civilians caught in the fighting.”
The devastation wrought by the strikes, which are part of Israel’s expanded offensive in Gaza, appeared to be a tipping point in the war for a number of countries who responded with diplomatic measures in condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis.
Jordan on Wednesday became the latest country to recall its ambassador to Israel, following Chile and Colombia, due to the strikes on Gaza. Bolivia on Tuesday cut its diplomatic relations with Israel citing “crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people.”
The strikes continue amid increasingly urgent calls for a ceasefire by the UN and aid organizations, and despite a UN General Assembly resolution backed by over 100 countries calling for a “sustained humanitarian truce.”
Israel has also announced the death of more soldiers in their assault, bringing the total to 20.
‘It felt like the end of the world’
Hospitals in Gaza say they are overwhelmed by the influx of dead and injured, with staff working in constant fear of an air strike.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the Wednesday attack targeted a Hamas command and control complex and “eliminated” Hamas terrorists “based on precise intelligence.” “Hamas deliberately builds its terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings, intentionally endangering Gazan civilians,” the IDF added in a statement.
An earlier strike in the same camp also caused catastrophic damage, with survivors and eyewitnesses describing of apocalyptic scenes and family members buried under rubble. “It felt like the end of the world,” one eyewitness said.
The IDF said the first strike killed several Hamas members, including Ibrahim Biari, whom it described as one of the Hamas commanders responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel, in which more than 1,400 people were killed and hundreds taken hostage. Hamas, however, strongly denied the presence of one of its leaders in the refugee camp.
The United Nations Human Rights Office said on social media that the attacks on Jabalya, which is Gaza’s largest refugee camp, “could amount to war crimes” given “the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction.”
Nearly half of all hospitals in Gaza are out of service due to bombardments and fuel shortages, including the leading cancer hospital in the strip, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah. It warned Gaza’s largest hospital Al Shifa would be forced to stop operating in less than a day.
The hospital is considered a backbone in providing health services in northern Gaza and the outage has affected ventilation systems in the operating rooms, the hospital’s only oxygen station, and the hospital morgue refrigerators, Al Kahlout said.
Heading into Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Wednesday were 55 humanitarian aid trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent containing food, water, medicines and medical supplies. A total of 272 aid trucks have crossed into Gaza so far – a drop in the ocean of the assistance needed – but no fuel has been allowed to enter, it said.
This story is developing and is being updated.