GAZA: Ashraf al-Qudra, the spokesperson of the health ministry in Gaza, said on Saturday that the latest Israeli bombardment had turned Gaza into a “ball of fire”.
The spokesperson noted that at least 377 more Palestinians have lost their lives in designated safe areas, Al Jazeera reported.
Al-Qudra added that Israel’s actions had caused complete paralysis of the health system, medical teams and ambulances in Gaza.
Gaza’s health ministry said that at least 110 medical staff in the besieged strip have been killed by Israeli shelling and air strikes since October 7, according to Al Jazeera.
It added that more than 100 medical staff have been injured, 50 ambulances have been attacked, half of them no longer functioning.
The ministry mentioned that 12 hospitals and 46 primary healthcare clinics have shut down due to damage from bombing or lack of fuel.
It also said that 24 hospitals (with a bed occupancy of 2,000) have been told to evacuate in northern Gaza.
The Israel Defence Forces have stepped up its bombardment of the enclave, CNN reported, as darkness fell over the Gaza Strip.
“Intense and near-continuous thunder of explosions can be heard from the direction of the Gaza Strip for the past hour and a half, after more sporadic and less intense fire during most of the afternoon,” a CNN team in Ashkelon, Israel, reported.
Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant confirmed military operations had progressed in Gaza, CNN reported. “We moved to a new phase in the war,” he said in a statement delivered in Hebrew. “Tonight, the ground in Gaza shook. We attacked above ground and below ground. We attacked at all levels, in all places. The instructions to our forces are clear: the operation will continue until a new order is given,” he said.
Israeli Communications Minister Shlomo Kari said his office would sever all ties with Starlink due to statements by Elon Musk, who promised satellite communications to internationally recognised organisations in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel would explore “every option” to secure the release of more than 220 hostages taken by Hamas to Gaza on October 7.
Facing increasing anger over the fate of the captives as Israel steps up its war on Gaza, Netanyahu agreed to meet representatives of hostage relatives who demanded to know how the government would handle the crisis.
Netanyahu made no commitment to any exchange deal but told the families authorities would “exhaust every option to bring them (the hostages) home”.
Hamas said on Saturday it was ready to release the hostages if Israel freed all Palestinians held in its prisons.” The price to pay for the large number of enemy hostages in our hands is to empty the (Israeli) prisons of all Palestinian prisoners,” Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida said in a statement broadcast by the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television channel.
“If the enemy wants to close this file of detainees in one go, we are ready for it. If it wants to do it step-by-step, we are ready for that too.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday he was surprised by Israel’s escalation of the bombardments in Gaza and repeated a call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire for the delivery of aid.
“I was encouraged in the last days by what seemed to be a growing consensus in the international community … for the need of at least a humanitarian pause in the fighting,” Guterres said in a statement.
“Regrettably, instead of the pause, I was surprised by an unprecedented escalation of the bombardments and their devastating impacts, undermining the referred humanitarian objectives,” he said.
“Given the breakdown in communications, I am also extremely concerned about the UN staff who are in Gaza to deliver humanitarian assistance,” Guterres said on Saturday. “This situation must be reversed.”
The United Arab Emirates asked the United Nations Security Council on Saturday to meet “as soon as possible” following Israel’s expanded ground operations in Gaza and the disconnection of telecommunications networks, diplomats said.
The 15-member council could meet as early as Sunday, diplomats said, and the UAE has asked for UN aid chief Martin Griffiths and Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency providing aid to Palestinians (UNRWA), to brief.
Mansour Shouman, a resident of Gaza, told Al Jazeera there has been “a lot of chaos” over the last 24 hours amid a total communication blackout in the besieged enclave and an increase in Israeli attacks.
“However, the people of Gaza – despite all the challenges, despite everything they are going through – they are still holding steadfast,” he told Al Jazeera.
Shouman also mentioned that the people in Gaza were “extremely angry” as more aid had not been allowed into the besieged strip.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk warned on Saturday that there was the potential for thousands more civilians to die as Israel presses a ground operation in Gaza.
“Given the manner in which military operations have been conducted until now, in the context of the 56-year-old occupation, I am raising alarm about the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza and the potential for thousands more civilians to die,” he said.
Israel’s army relentlessly hammered Gaza on Saturday after a fierce overnight bombardment that rescuers said destroyed hundreds of buildings three weeks into a war sparked by the deadliest attack in the country’s history.
Israel unleashed its bombing campaign after Hamas gunmen stormed across the Gaza border on October 7, killing 1,400 people.
The health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza said Israeli strikes had killed 7,703 people, mainly civilians, including more than 3,500 children.
The conflict is the fifth and deadliest in Gaza since Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Palestinian territory in 2005. The latest Israeli strikes against Hamas, the resistance group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, were the most intense since the war broke out. They coincided with ground operations.