Fighting for third day in north Gaza as thousands displaced

General |Author: AFP | June 29, 2024, Saturday @ 20:43| 1608 views

A woman carries salvaged items following an Israeli raid in al-Mawasi area in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip, on June 29, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas movement. (Photo by Eyad BABA / AFP)

Explosions, air strikes and gunfire rattled northern Gaza on Saturday, the third day of an Israeli military operation that has uprooted tens of thousands of Palestinians and compounded what the UN called "unbearable" living conditions in the territory.

An AFP correspondent reported ongoing explosions from the Shujaiya area near Gaza City, with a resident saying bodies were visible on the streets.

The armed wings of both Hamas and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said on Saturday they were engaged in ongoing fighting with Israeli forces in the area.

Israel's military, meanwhile, said its operations were continuing in Shujaiya where fighting "above and below the ground" left a "large number" of militants dead.

A resurgence of fighting in the area comes months after Israel had declared the command structure of Hamas militants dismantled in northern Gaza.

Last Sunday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the "intense phase" of the war was winding down after almost nine months, but experts see a potentially prolonged next phase.

The Gaza war has also led to soaring tensions on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, leading Iran on Saturday to warn of an "obliterating" war if Israel attacked Lebanon.

The war started with Hamas's October 7 attack on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 42 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,834 people, also mostly civilians, according to data from the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza. It reported at least 69 deaths over the previous 48 hours.

- Fleeing empty-handed -

Mohammed Harara, 30, said he and his family, young and old, felt as though they would become part of that toll.

He said they fled from their home in Shujaiya with nothing, "due to the bombardment by Israeli planes, tanks and drones" that they barely survived.

"We couldn't carry anything from the house. We left the food, flour, canned goods, mattresses, and blankets," Harara said.

Israel's military on Friday said it was conducting "targeted raids" backed by air strikes against Hamas militants in the Shujaiya area.

The United Nations humanitarian agency OCHA estimated that "about 60,000 to 80,000 people were displaced" from the area this week.

AFPTV images on Saturday showed men moving belongings on a donkey cart. Some people were pushed in wheelchairs. Children walked with backpacks past piles of dusty debris.

"I saw a tank in front of the Shuhada mosque firing" at targets, said Abdelkareem al-Mamluk. "There were martyrs in the street."

Elsewhere in the coastal territory, the civil defence agency on Saturday said four bodies were pulled from an apartment after an Israeli strike in the central region.

Further south, in the Rafah area, witnesses reported dead and wounded after a new incursion by Israeli troops.

Tarek Qandeel, director of the medical centre in Al-Maghazi, central Gaza, said the facility was seriously damaged in the bombing of a neighbouring house, making it the latest Gaza medical facility affected by the war.

The United Nations, in a report on Friday that cited Gaza's health ministry, said "about 70 percent of health infrastructure has been destroyed".

- No bathrooms -

Separately, a UN spokeswoman, Louise Wateridge, said by video-link that she had just returned to central Gaza after four weeks outside the territory.

"It's really unbearable," she said, describing a "significantly deteriorated" situation.

"There's no water there, there's no sanitation, there's no food," and people are returning to live in "empty shells" of buildings.

In the absence of bathrooms they are "relieving themselves anywhere they can", Wateridge said.

The UN says most of Gaza's population is displaced, but fallout from the war has also uprooted people on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border, where Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and Israeli forces have engaged in near-daily exchanges of fire.

Such exchanges have escalated this month, alongside bellicose rhetoric from both sides.

Israel's military said plans for a Lebanon offensive had been "approved and validated", prompting Hezbollah to respond that none of Israel would be spared in a full-blown conflict.

- 'Psychological warfare' -

In a post Saturday on social media, Iran's mission to the United Nations in New York said it "deems as psychological warfare" Israeli threats to "attack" Lebanon.

But it added such a move would lead to an "obliterating" war that could involve "all resistance fronts", a reference to Iran-backed groups in the region.

Among those are Yemen's Huthi rebels, who have for months been targeting international shipping in the Red Sea area. The rebels say they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians.

On Friday the Huthis claimed a "direct hit" on a tanker in the Red Sea but a maritime security agency run by Britain's Royal Navy reported no damage.

The US Navy has retaliated against Huthi targets for such attacks, and on Friday the US military said its forces had destroyed seven drones and a control station vehicle in Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen over the previous day.

© Agence France-Presse