Gaza rescuers report deadly strikes although clashes slow for Eid

Palestinians search the rubble of the Harb family home during search operations following overnight Israeli strikes in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on June 18. Picture: Bashar TALEB / AFP

Palestinians search the rubble of the Harb family home during search operations following overnight Israeli strikes in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on June 18. Picture: Bashar TALEB / AFP

Published Jun 18, 2024


Israeli strikes on Tuesday killed at least 13 people in central Gaza, the civil defence agency in the Hamas-run territory said, although fighting has largely subsided as Muslims mark Eid al-Adha.

An Israeli announcement at the weekend of a daily "pause" of military activity to facilitate aid flows coincided with the Muslim holiday and has brought relative calm to parts of the besieged Gaza Strip after more than eight months of war.

In Jerusalem on Monday, thousands of Israelis protested against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government over its failure to negotiate the release of scores of hostages still held in the Palestinian territory since Hamas's October 7 attack.

Demonstrators rallied outside the parliament and near Netanyahu's residence, demanding early elections and chanting "All of them! Now!" calling for the hostages release, as US, Qatari and Egyptian mediation efforts towards a truce deal have stalled for months.

"We need to shut down the country in order to make the government fall," said Yaacov Godo, whose son Tom was killed during the Hamas attack, at the start of what activists describe as a week of anti-government action across the country.

The war should have stopped "a long time ago", and the return of the captives would "end this story", Godo said.

Israeli media said another rally was planned in front of the parliament building late Tuesday.

Witnesses reported gunfire and artillery shelling near Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza, where the civil defence agency said at least 13 people died in two separate strikes on a family home and on a commercial building.

Palestinians search the rubble of the Harb family home which was hit in overnight Israeli strikes in al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on June 18, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant Hamas movement. Picture: Bashar TALEB / AFP

Witnesses and the Hamas government media office said there were some strikes and fighting elsewhere in northern and central Gaza.

In a statement, the Israeli army said its operations continued in southern and central Gaza on Tuesday, killing several militants over the past day.

'Tactical pause'

The military said it was operating at "close quarters" in central Gaza in actions that included air stikes against Islamic Jihad fighters.

In Rafah, where the Israeli military has said it would pause fighting along a key route in the city's east, witnesses saw Israeli military vehicles and reported shelling in other areas.

The unprecedented October 7 attack by Palestinian militants on southern Israel that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive aimed at eliminating Hamas has killed at least 37,372 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva he was "appalled by the disregard for international human rights" and "unconscionable death and suffering".

The United Nations has said aid access to Gaza has been severely hindered by factors including insecurity, the closing of crossing points to the territory, and Israeli procedural delays.

Since the start of Israeli military operations around Rafah in early May, when the vital crossing was seized and closed, "aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further," Turk said.

The tactical pause is designed "to allow for the UN to collect and distribute more aid," said Shimon Freedman, spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body overseeing Palestinian civilian affairs.

'Urgent' de-escalation

Hamas demanded the opening of both the Kerem Shalom and Rafah crossings, the group said in a in a statement on Tuesday, accusing Israel and the United States of the "crime of preventing the entry of aid and food as a tool for political pressure".

Displaced Palestinian Ali Hassan, sheltering in a tent in central Gaza's Deir al-Balah, told AFP "Eid al-Adha this year is not like previous holidays."

"There is no meat or sacrificial animals, we don't even have clothes for the children," he said.

As he met with top Israeli and Lebanese officials in Beirut on Tuesday, US envoy Amos Hochstein called for the "urgent" de-escalation of cross-border exchanges.

"The conflict ... between Israel and Hezbollah has gone on for long enough," he said.

In a message for Eid al-Adha, US President Joe Biden has called for the implementation of a ceasefire plan he outlined last month, saying it was "the best way to end the violence".

Biden's proposal, which he has described as Israeli, would bring an initial six-week pause to fighting and Hamas would free hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

An Israeli negotiator told AFP that tens of hostages "are alive with certainty", stressing Israel could not commit to ending the war until all the captives are freed.