Israel pounded the length of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, killing families in their homes even as Washington dispatched an envoy to encourage its ally to be more precise in its war against Hamas militants.
Two weeks after a truce collapsed, the war is now raging across the entire Palestinian enclave and a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding.
In Rafah, jammed with people in makeshift tents on Gaza’s southern edge, people wept at a morgue where bodies of those killed in the latest overnight air strikes were wrapped in bloodied shrouds. Some were small children.
The adjacent homes of the Abu Dhbaa and Ashour families had been obliterated by a massive air strike, and residents were picking forlornly through rubble. Gaza health authorities said 26 people had been killed there. Neighbour Fadel Shabaan had rushed to the area after the bombing.
“It was difficult because of the dust and people’s screams. We went there and we saw our neighbour who had 10 martyrs. This is a safe camp, there is nothing here, the children play soccer in the street,” he said.
Israel has brushed off calls for a ceasefire, including a resolution at the UN Security Council blocked by a US veto last week and another that passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly this week.
Washington has provided diplomatic cover for its long-standing ally but expressed increasing alarm over civilian deaths. President Joe Biden this week called Israeli bombing “indiscriminate”. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan arrived in Israel and met Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s office said. Sullivan would discuss with the Israelis the need to be more accurate in strikes, spokesperson John Kirby said.
Up to 45% of the 29 000 air-to-ground munitions that Israel has dropped on Gaza since October 7 have been unguided “dumb bombs” according to a US intelligence assessment reported by CNN.
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, a member of Israel’s security cabinet and Netanyahu’s Likud party, rejected Biden’s characterisation of Israel’s strikes as indiscriminate.
“There is no such thing as ‘dumb bombs’. Some bombs are more accurate, some bombs are less accurate.
What we have is mostly pilots who are precise,” he told Army Radio. “There is no chance that Israel’s air force or other military units fired at targets that were not terror targets.”
Israel launched its campaign in retaliation for a rampage by Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules Gaza, whose fighters killed 1 200 Israelis and seized 240 hostages in a cross-border raid on October 7. Since then, Israeli forces have besieged the coastal strip and laid much of it to waste, with nearly 19 000 people confirmed dead according to Palestinian health officials, and thousands more feared buried under the rubble.
Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been forced from their homes, many several times. Food and medical supplies are running out and international aid bodies say they fear mass death from hunger and disease.
Despite Israel’s pledges to reduce harm to civilians, it has extended its ground campaign from the north to the south this month, leaving no part of the enclave unscathed. It says it is offering warnings where it can before striking an area.
In the main southern city Khan Younis, where advancing Israeli forces reached the centre this week, a whole city block had been bombed overnight to dust. Though most people had fled after Israeli warnings, neighbours digging with a hand shovel believed four people were inside. One body had been recovered.
In the north, including the ruins of Gaza City, fighting has only escalated since Israel announced that its troops had largely completed their military objectives last month. Ten Israeli soldiers died on Tuesday, including officers up to the rank of colonel, most killed in an ambush in a market area of Gaza City’s Shejaiya district, the worst losses since October.
The Israeli military said its troops had dismantled a “central operating site” of Hamas forces in a school in Shejaiya and destroyed two tunnel shafts, a rocket launch pit and a weapons storage facility in Khan Younis.
Elsewhere in the north in Jabalia, Gaza’s health ministry said Israeli forces had stormed a hospital, detaining and abusing medical staff and preventing them from treating wounded patients, at least two of whom had died.
Twelve children were in the intensive care unit where the electricity had been cut and there was no milk, a Gaza health spokesperson said.