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'Exhausted' Gazans desperate for war to end as Israel presses offensive

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says 21,672 killed in war

By AFP - Dec 30,2023 - Last updated at Dec 30,2023

A Palestinian man carries the body of a child after it was unearthed from the rubble of a building following an Israeli strike on the Zawayda area of the central Gaza Strip on Saturday (AFP photo)

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories — Fighting raged on Saturday across Gaza, where displaced Palestinians said they were "exhausted" with no end in sight to the Israeli war on their besieged territory, now in its 13th week.

Smoke billowed over the Gaza Strip's southern city of Khan Yunis, the focus of recent fighting in the grinding war, which was triggered by Hamas sudden attacks on Israel on October 7.

Further south, the border city of Rafah near Egypt was teeming with Gazans seeking safety from Israel's relentless bombardment in its fight against Palestinian militants.

"Enough with this war! We are totally exhausted," said Umm Louay Abu Khater, a 49-year-old woman who had fled her home in Khan Yunis, taking refuge in Rafah.

"We are constantly displaced from one place to another in cold weather," she said. "The bombs keep falling on us day and night."

The Israeli army kept up its campaign in the face of mounting international pushback, reporting "fierce battles" and air strikes across the Palestinian territory.

The health ministry in Gaza says the Israeli military campaign has killed at least 21,672 people, mostly women and children.

A ministry statement on Saturday said 165 Gazans were killed over the previous 24 hours.

The Israeli forces says 168 soldiers have been killed in combat inside the territory.

An AFP correspondent reported continuous shelling of Rafah and Khan Yunis overnight, and the health ministry said “multiple” people had died in a strike on a house in Nuseirat refugee camp, in central Gaza.


‘Year of destruction’ 


Medics in Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis said they were facing severe shortages.

“The hospital is receiving a lot more [patients] than its capacity, in fact we are functioning at 300 per cent of our... capacity,” doctor Ahmad Abu Mustafa said in footage shared by the World Health Organisation.

“The beds are full... and we are basically short on all sorts of medicine supplies.”

The health ministry appealed to the international community for more support, including greater assistance in evacuating more patients.

The fighting has put 23 hospitals and 53 health centres out of service, while 104 ambulances have been destroyed, the ministry said.

In central Gaza’s Zawayda, Palestinians pulled the body of a child from under the rubble after an Israeli strike.

“We pulled [out] nine martyrs, who were members of a very peaceful family. Two adjacent houses were targeted,” said the area’s civil defence director, Rami Al Aidi.

In Deir Al Balah, farther south, slain reporter Jabr Abu Hadrous was laid to rest.

“Palestinian journalists are killed, arrested and prosecuted,” said fellow journalist Basel Khalaf, calling on the international community to “stand by Palestinian journalists, not only in words but also in actions”.

In north Gaza, the Israeli army said dozens of “terrorists” were killed in Gaza City and “two Hamas military compounds were dismantled” in Beit Lahia.

Ahmed Al Baz, a 33-year-old Palestinian displaced from Gaza City, said this year had been “the worst in my life”.

“It was a year of destruction and devastation,” he said in Rafah, surrounded by tents in a makeshift camp.

“We just want the war to end, and start the new year at home, with a ceasefire declared.”


Mediation efforts 


International mediators, who last month brokered a one-week truce that saw more than 100 hostages released and some aid enter Gaza, continue in their efforts to secure a new pause in fighting.

US news outlet Axios and Israeli website Ynet, both citing unnamed Israeli officials, reported that Qatari mediators had told Israel that Hamas was prepared to resume talks on new hostage releases in exchange for a ceasefire.

And a Hamas delegation was in Cairo on Friday to discuss an Egyptian plan proposing renewable ceasefires, a staggered release of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and ultimately an end to the war, sources close to Hamas say.

Islamic Jihad, another armed group fighting alongside Hamas, said on Saturday that Palestinian factions were “in the process” of evaluating the Egyptian proposal.

A response will come “within days, and the brothers in Egypt will be informed”, according to Muhammad Al Hindi, Islamic Jihad’s deputy secretary-general.

Israel has yet to formally comment on the Cairo plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told families of hostages on Thursday that “we are in contact” with the Egyptian mediators.

The United States announced on Friday it had approved a $147.5 million sale of 155mm high-explosive artillery munitions and related equipment to Israel under an emergency provision.

Hamas said on Saturday the sale was “clear evidence of the American administration’s full sponsorship of this criminal war”.

An Israeli siege imposed after October 7, following years of crippling blockade, has led to dire shortages of food, safe water, fuel and medicine in Gaza, with aid convoys offering only sporadic relief.

On Friday, a total of 72 aid trucks, most of them carrying food, entered Gaza, according to the territory’s border crossings authority.

Gaza also received four fuel trucks and 29 commercial food trucks, it said.

The UN says more than 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have fled their homes.

South Africa on Friday filed an application at the International Court of Justice to start proceedings for what it said were “genocidal acts” in Gaza, which Israel dismissed as “blood libel”.

The Gaza war has intensified tensions across the region.

Israel has traded regular cross-border fire with Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hizbollah movement, and early Saturday Israeli forces said it had carried out strikes in Syria following rocket launches.

The bombardment killed two fighters from a Hizbollah-linked group, Britain-based war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.


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