Israeli ground forces advanced toward Gaza City on Thursday as the United States and Arab countries stepped up diplomatic efforts to ease the assault on the Hamas-ruled enclave and achieve at least a brief a cessation of hostilities to help civilians.
US President Joe Biden proposed a humanitarian “pause” on Wednesday as hundreds of foreign passport holders and wounded Palestinians left Gaza for the first time through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt.
Arab countries, including Washington’s allies in making peace with Israel, have expressed growing dissatisfaction with the war. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel and asked his Israeli counterpart not to return to the country until the end of the war and the “humanitarian catastrophe” it has caused. More than 3,600 Palestinian children have been killed in 25 days of fighting, in which bombs have forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes while food, water and fuel are in short supply.
Israeli troops entered the Strip in large numbers over the weekend after three weeks of intense aerial bombardment that leveled entire neighborhoods and drove more than half of the 2.3 million residents from their homes. The war – the fifth and by far the deadliest between Israel and Hamas – began with a bloody attack by the rebel group on southern Israeli territory on October 7 that killed hundreds of men, women and children. About 240 people were arrested.
The United States has pledged unwavering support for Israel as it seeks to end Hamas’ control of Gaza and crush its military capabilities, although the allies have no clear future plans for the enclave. White House officials indicated that the cessation of hostilities would allow more aid to Gaza and create the conditions for the possible release of more hostages.
The opening of the Rafah crossing came after weeks of negotiations between Egypt, Israel, the United States and Qatar, which acted as mediators for Hamas. This is the first time anyone has left Gaza, except for four hostages released by Hamas and one rescued by Israeli forces.
Israeli troops appear to be advancing along three main routes, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a US think tank. A column from the northeast corner of Gaza. The other, south of Gaza City, crossed the territory until it reached the main highway connecting north and south.
The third, leaving the northwestern edge of the enclave, advanced about 5 kilometers (3 miles) along the Mediterranean coast to the outskirts of the Shati and Jabaliya refugee camps, near Gaza City. Airstrikes launched by Israel on Tuesday and Wednesday destroyed residential buildings in Jabaliya, but the number of deaths and injuries is unknown at this time. According to the Israeli army, the operation killed insurgents and destroyed Hamas tunnels.
Palestinian rebels fired anti-tank missiles, detonated explosive devices and fired grenades at Israeli forces during the overnight battle, the military said Thursday. The soldiers returned fire and resorted to artillery, as well as attacks from a helicopter and a ship. The reports cannot be independently confirmed.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in the fighting zone in northern Gaza despite repeated calls from Israel to evacuate and head south, which has also been fired upon by its forces.
Casualties on both sides are expected to rise as Israeli troops advance into densely populated neighborhoods in Gaza City. Israeli officials maintain that Hamas’s military infrastructure, including its tunnels, is concentrated in the city and accuse the rebels of hiding among the civilian population.
Rockets fired from Gaza into Israel and daily clashes between Israel and the Lebanese rebel group Hezbollah have disrupted the lives of millions of Israelis and forced about 250,000 from border towns in the north. and south. Most projectiles will be intercepted or fall into open areas.
More than 8,800 Palestinians have been killed during the war, mostly women and children, and more than 22,000 people have been injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said on Wednesday, making no distinction between combatants and civilians. This figure is unprecedented in decades of violence between the two sides.
More than 1,400 people died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during the first attack by Hamas, also a number never seen before. Sixteen Israeli soldiers have died in Gaza since the start of the ground campaign.
At least 335 people with foreign passports left the enclave for Egypt through the Rafah crossing on Wednesday, said Wael Abu Omar, spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. A total of 76 Palestinian patients and their companions were evacuated for treatment in the neighboring country, he added.
For its part, the United States said it is trying to remove 400 American citizens and their families.
Egypt has said it will not accept a wave of Palestinian refugees out of fear that Israel will not allow them to return to Gaza after the war.
Those who remain in the enclave face an increasingly desperate humanitarian situation: supplies are running low and hundreds of thousands of people are crammed into hospitals and shelters run by the United Nations. Israel has allowed more than 260 truckloads of food and medicine to enter from Egypt, but aid workers say it is not enough.
Hospitals say their generators are running out of fuel after weeks without power. The World Health Organization says that the lack of fuel puts at risk 1,000 patients receiving kidney dialysis, 130 premature babies in incubators, cancer patients and patients on respirators.