Deir Al Balah, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops fought with Palestinian militants in a refugee camp and outside a nearby hospital on Tuesday, as the army expanded its operations in the northern Gaza Strip, where residents have been without electricity, water or access to aid for weeks. humanitarian.
The front line of the war, now in its seventh week, has shifted to Jabaliya camp, an intricate labyrinth of concrete buildings near Gaza City where refugees from the 1948 war live around the creation of Israel and their descendants. Israel has been shelling the area for weeks and the army said Hamas fighters have regrouped there and in other eastern districts after being driven out of much of Gaza City.
Fighting also intensified outside the nearby Indonesian Hospital, where Palestinian health authorities said 12 people died in an attack on Monday. Hundreds of patients and displaced people were trapped inside with scarce supplies after the evacuation of about 200 people the previous day, they said Tuesday.
For its part, Senior Hamas members said they were close to reaching a deal through international mediators to free some of the estimated 240 people held hostage in the Oct. 7 attack in Israel., which triggered the war. But talks have stalled several times and previous predictions of a deal have proven premature.
The war has dealt a heavy blow to Palestinian civilians, especially those who remain in the north after repeated Israeli messages for people to flee to the south.
It is unclear how many people remain in the north, but the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees estimates that about 160,000 people remain in its shelters in the area, although it can no longer provide services. Some 1.7 million Palestinians, making up about three-quarters of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes. Many crowd schools and other UN centers in the south of the territory.
As shelters have been overwhelmed, people have been forced to sleep on the surrounding streets, with little shelter from the winter rains of recent days.
Although the situation is especially difficult in the north, throughout Gaza there is a shortage of food, water and fuel for the generators that keep basic infrastructure running. There has been a general outage in the electrical grid since Israel cut off fuel imports at the start of the war.
Israel continues to attack what it describes as militant targets in Gaza, including the evacuation zone in the south. The bombings often kill women and children, and authorities have said they will soon expand their operations in the south of the enclave.
Fighting in Jabaliya and around hospitals
Israeli troops are “preparing the battlefield” in the Jabaliya area, according to the army. Soldiers attacked three tunnels where fighters were hiding and destroyed rocket launchers, the military added, publishing images of Israeli soldiers patrolling on foot in Jabaliya as gunshots could be heard in the background.
Neighbors in the area said there was intense fighting as Israeli forces tried to advance under the cover of airstrikes. “The (Israeli) occupation is trying to lay siege to the countryside,” said Hamza Abu Mansour, a university student. “They encounter firm resistance.”
It was not possible to independently confirm details about the fighting.
Faced with the bombings and the advance of Israeli troops, tens of thousands of Palestinians in the north had taken refuge in hospitals, but the medical centers have been emptied as the violence reaches their doors and most are no longer operational.
Munir al-Boursh, a senior member of the Health Ministry who said he was inside the Indonesian Hospital, told Al-Jazeera by phone that Israeli forces had surrounded the site, forcing health personnel to bury 50 bodies in the courtyard. .
The Israeli military had no immediate comment.
An Israeli projectile hit the hospital on Monday morning, killing 12 people, according to Palestinian authorities. Israel denied attacking the hospital, although it said its troops had returned fire at militants attacking them from inside the complex.
Up to 600 wounded and some 2,000 displaced people remained there, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
A similar situation has occurred in recent days at the Shifa hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip, where some 250 patients and medical workers remain stranded after the evacuation of 31 premature babies.
Israel has presented some evidence in recent days of an armed presence at the hospital, but has not so far backed up its claims that Hamas had a major command center under the hospital, something Hamas and hospital staff have denied.
Michael Ryan, a senior World Health Organization official, said Monday that treatment for complicated medical cases is no longer available in Gaza, and that hospitals will likely be overwhelmed by the estimated 5,500 births expected in the next month. .
“The hospital situation — the primary care system situation — in Gaza is catastrophic and it is the worst that can be imagined (in the) north,” he said.
More than 12,700 Palestinians have died in Gaza, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in the West Bank. Authorities there reported another 4,000 missing. Their counts do not differentiate between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health bases its count on information gathered by the counterpart ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which has not been able to fully update figures for more than 10 days due to the shutdown of communications and services in the north.
Some 1,200 people have been killed on the Israeli side, most of them civilians during the Oct. 7 attack, in which Hamas took some 240 hostages to Gaza. The military said 68 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza in ground operations.
Military images from northern parts of the territory showed widespread damage and almost all buildings damaged or destroyed.
Israel, the United States and Qatar, which mediates with Hamas, have been negotiating for weeks a release of hostages that would be accompanied by a ceasefire in Gaza and the entry of more humanitarian aid.
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas member, said a deal could be reached “in the next few hours” in which Hamas would release hostages and Israel would release Palestinian prisoners. Exiled Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh also said they were close to a deal, but similar predictions about a hostage deal have proven premature.
The three members of the Israeli war cabinet met Monday night with representatives of the hostages’ families. A relative of one hostage said authorities, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had told them that the government considers the release of the hostages and the defeat of Hamas “equally important.”
Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Chaimi is held captive in Gaza, said that was “incredibly disappointing” for the families, as Israel has said it could take months to dismantle the armed group.