• Health ministry says Israeli bombardment killed more than 8,000 people, half of them children
  • Internet connectivity in Gaza Strip being restored two days after it was cut off
  • UNRWA says ‘thousands’ broke into distribution centres in Gaza, grabbing basic survival items

GAZA STRIP, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Israel pounded Hamas-ruled Gaza on Sunday in an escalating air and ground campaign as the UN warned civil order was “starting to break down” in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steeled the nation for a “long and difficult war” ahead as the Red Cross voiced shock at the “intolerable” human suffering inside Gaza.

Despite calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and outrage across the Muslim world, Israel has intensified the war triggered by Hamas’s unprecedented attack more than three weeks ago.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the unrelenting retaliatory Israeli bombardment has killed more than 8,000 people, mainly civilians and half of them children.

Israel’s army said “stage two” of the war started with ground incursions since late Friday.

On Sunday the military said it had struck another 450 Hamas targets within the past 24 hours, and that it was increasing its ground forces in Gaza.

In a late-night televised address on Saturday, Netanyahu announced a “second stage of the war whose goals are clear: Destroying the military and leadership capabilities of Hamas, and bringing the hostages back home”.

He vowed to “eradicate” Hamas “for the sake of our existence”.

Panic and fear have surged inside Gaza, where more than half of its 2.4 million residents are displaced, according to the UN, and thousands of buildings have been destroyed.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said the situation was “growing more desperate by the hour” as casualties increase and essential supplies of food, water, medicine and shelter dwindle.

He reiterated appeals for a ceasefire to end the “nightmare”.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Sunday said “thousands of people” broke into several of its warehouses and distribution centres in Gaza, grabbing basic survival items like wheat flour and hygiene supplies.

“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down,” it said.

Inside Gaza, where petrol and diesel have virtually run out, donkey cart driver Raafat Najjar told AFP “there are no cars, we transport (people) on carts as there’s no fuel.”

Communications went down for days after Israel cut internet lines, although connectivity was gradually returning on Sunday.

Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, voiced shock at the “intolerable level of human suffering” in Gaza and urged all sides to de-escalate.

“This is a catastrophic failing that the world must not tolerate,” she said.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has said Israel was attacking “above the ground and below”, alluding to Hamas’s sprawling tunnel network.

Death toll in Gaza crosses 8,000, half of them children

The Gaza health ministry has said that more than 8,000 had been killed in the Palestinian territory since the start of the current conflict with Israel on October 7.

“The death toll linked to the Israeli aggression is past 8,000, half of whom are children,” the ministry told.

Internet connectivity in the Gaza Strip is being restored, the global network monitor Netblocks said Sunday, almost two days after it was cut off during heavy Israeli bombardment.

“Real-time network data show that internet connectivity is being restored in the #Gaza Strip,” the company wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

An employee in Gaza City said shortly after 4am (0200 GMT) that he could use the internet and had managed to contact people in southern Gaza by phone. Internet and phone access had been cut off across Gaza since Friday, as Israel bombarded the territory.

Qatar-mediated negotiations between Israel and Hamas aimed at de-escalating fighting in Gaza continued on Saturday, a source briefed on the negotiations said, even as Israel intensified its assault on the enclave. Talks have not broken down, but are taking place at a “much slower pace” than before the escalation from Friday evening, the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of negotiations.

‘Israel must protect civilians in Gaza, stop Jewish settler violence’

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, on Sunday said Israel has a responsibility to protect the lives of innocent people in Gaza, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday amid a growing outcry over Palestinian civilian deaths.

With the death toll in the Gaza Strip in the thousands and climbing, US President Joe Biden’s administration has been under increasing pressure to make clear that its steadfast support of Israel does not translate into a blanket endorsement of all that its ally is doing in the impoverished enclave in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.

In a round of television interviews, Sullivan said Washington was asking hard questions of Israel, including on issues surrounding humanitarian aid, distinguishing between terrorists and innocent civilians and on how Israel is thinking through its military operation.

“What we believe is that every hour, every day of this military operation, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Israeli government should be taking every possible means available to them to distinguish between Hamas terrorists who are legitimate military targets and civilians who are not,” Sullivan said on CNN.

The US has been clear on that issue and Biden will reiterate the position in a call later on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Sullivan said.

Israeli fighter jets again dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Saturday, warning residents that the northern area was now a “battlefield” and they should “evacuate immediately”.

Hamas authorities reported Sunday that a “large number” of people were killed overnight in strikes on two refugee camps in northern Gaza.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari reiterated that Palestinian civilians should go south “to a safer area where they can receive water, food and medicine”.

After 84 aid trucks entered the territory in recent days, he vowed humanitarian efforts to Gaza would expand.

But Ibrahim Shandoughli a 53-year-old from Jabaliya in northern Gaza, told AFP he and his family went nowhere.

“Where do you want us to evacuate to? All the areas are dangerous.”

Netanyahu in his address also acknowledged the intelligence failure that exposed Israel to the October 7 attack that stunned and infuriated the nation.

“There was a terrible failure here, and it will be thoroughly examined,” he said.

While Israel has mourned its dead, sympathy has swelled for the families whose loved ones were abducted by Hamas and are at heightened risk as the war intensifies in Gaza.

“Bring them home,” shouted relatives at a rally on Saturday.

Hamas has released four of them but this week said “almost 50” had been killed by Israeli air strikes, a claim that was impossible to verify.

Netanyahu on Saturday assured hostage relatives that Israel would “exhaust every option to bring them home”.

“We demanded that no action be taken that endangers the fate of our family members, and any step considered should take into account the safety of our loved ones,” said Meirav Leshem Gonen, the mother of hostage Romi Gonen.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it was prepared to release the hostages if Israel freed the Palestinian prisoners it was holding.

Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said the group was ready for an “immediate” exchange.

Ifat Kalderon, whose cousin Ofer Kalderon is believed held in Gaza along with other relatives, told AFP she supported the idea of a prisoner release in exchange for the hostages.

“Take them, we don’t need them here,” she said. “I want my family and all the hostages to come back home.”

The ground operations have heightened fears that Israel’s other enemies — the Iran-allied “axis of resistance” forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — enter the conflict.

Israel’s ally the United States has warned Israel’s enemies to stay out and reinforced its military presence in the region.

Skirmishes have intensified on the Israeli-Lebanese border with Iran-backed Hamas ally Hezbollah, raising fears of a new front.

Shelling in south Lebanon injured a UN peacekeeper on Saturday, the mission’s spokesman said, hours after reporting a hit at its headquarters.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday warned on X, formerly Twitter, that Israel’s “crimes have crossed the red lines, which may force everyone to take action”.

Violence has also risen sharply in the occupied West Bank since the October 7 attacks, with more than 110 Palestinians killed, according to the territory’s health ministry.

 

After weeks of heavy bombardment of Gaza, which the Palestinian health ministry said has claimed over 8,000 lives, the Israeli army said “stage two” of the war started with ground incursions since late Friday.

Panic and fear have surged inside Gaza, where over one million people are displaced, and where communications went dark for days after Israel cut internet lines, although connectivity had gradually returned early Sunday.

“The world is witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe taking place before our eyes,” Guterres added.

“More than two million people, with nowhere safe to go, are being denied the essentials for life — food, water, shelter and medical care — while being subjected to relentless bombardment. I urge all those with responsibility to step back from the brink.”

– ‘Teachings of peace’ –

The UN’s top diplomat arrived in Nepal on a four-day visit following talks in Qatar.

“I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the delivery of sustained humanitarian relief at a scale that meets the needs of the people of Gaza, he said.

ICRC chief calls for end to ‘catastrophic’ Gaza suffering

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross called on all sides to act to halt the “intolerable” human suffering of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

“This is a catastrophic failing that the world must not tolerate,” said Mirjana Spoljaric, as Israel declared its war on Hamas had “entered a new phase” with its massive bombardment of Gaza.

“I am shocked by the intolerable level of human suffering and urge the parties to the conflict to de-escalate now,” she said.

“The tragic loss of so many civilian lives is deplorable.

EU top diplomat calls for ‘pause of hostilities’ in Gaza war

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell demanded on Saturday a “pause of hostilities” to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip after the intense overnight bombing of the coastal territory.

But later Saturday, his comments were challenged by Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg on social media for having exceeded the position agreed by EU leaders earlier in the week.

Late on Friday Israel stepped up its air campaign on Gaza, turning hundreds of buildings and thousands of houses into rubble.

“Gaza is in complete blackout and isolation while heavy shelling continues,” Borrell said on social media.

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