GAZA/CAIRO, Dec 8 (Reuters) – Israel sharply intensified its strikes on the Gaza Strip, pounding the length of the Palestinian enclave and killing hundreds in a new, expanded phase of the war that Washington said contradicted Israeli promises to do more to protect civilians.
The Israeli military said on Friday it had struck more than 450 targets in Gaza from land, sea and air over the past 24 hours – the most since a truce collapsed last week and around double the daily figures typically reported since then.
With the vast majority of Gazans now displaced and unable to access any aid, hospitals overrun and food running out, the main U.N. agency there said society was “on the verge of a full-blown collapse”.
Residents and the Israeli military both reported intensified fighting in both northern areas, where Israel had previously said its troops had largely completed their tasks last month, as well as in the south where they launched a new assault this week.
Gaza’s health ministry reported 350 people killed on Thursday, bringing the death toll from Israel’s two-month campaign in Gaza to more than 17,170, with thousands more missing and presumed buried under rubble. More strikes were reported on Friday morning in Khan Younis in the south, the Nusseirat camp in the centre and Gaza City in the north.
“As we stand here almost a week into this campaign into the south… it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a press conference in Washington on Thursday.
“And there does remain a gap between… the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground.”
With the fighting now extended across both halves of the Gaza Strip at the same time, residents say it has become almost impossible to find refuge. Israel says it is providing more detail than ever about which areas are safe and how to reach them, and blames Hamas for harm that befalls civilians by operating among them, which Hamas denies.
Hamas reported the most intense clashes with Israeli forces were taking place in the north in Gaza City’s Shejaia district, as well as in the south in Khan Younis, where Israelis reached the heart of the enclave’s second-biggest city on Wednesday.
The Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesman posted to social media that troops were operating “forcefully against Hamas and terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, especially in the Khan Younis area and the northern Strip”.
He said all residents must leave the Jabaliya and Zeitoun areas in the north, as well as Shejaia and the old city in Gaza City. In the south, residents seeking shelter should head along the coast, with the main north-south route through the spine of the enclave now “a battlefield”, he said.
Reuters journalists in the southern Gaza Strip have seen unprecedented numbers of dead and wounded overrunning the main Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, where there was no room on the floor on Thursday for patients sprawled across bloodsmeared tiles.
Reuters was unable to access other parts of the enclave but reached residents by telephone who described similar scenes of desperation.
With the fighting now in all directions, there was no place left to flee, said Yamen, sheltering at a school in central Gaza with his family.
“Inside the school is like outside it: the same feeling of fear of near death, the same suffering of starvation,” he said. “Every day we say we somehow survived. But for how long?”
Thomas White, Gaza head of UNRWA, the U.N. aid agency for Palestinians, wrote on X: “Civil order is breaking down in Gaza – the streets feel wild, particularly after dark – some aid convoys are being looted and UN vehicles stoned. Society is on the brink of full-blown collapse.”