Gaza suffered its third total communications blackout since the start of the war, while the Israeli military announced late Sunday that it had encircled Gaza City and split the besieged coastal strip in two.
“Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters, calling it a “significant stage” in Israel’s war against the militant Hamas group that rules the enclave. Israeli media reported that troops were expected to enter Gaza City within 48 hours. After dark there were violent explosions in the north of the Gaza Strip.
The “collapse of connectivity” across the Gaza Strip, reported by internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmed by Palestinian telecommunications company Paltel, made it even more difficult to provide details of the new phase of the military offensive.
“We have lost communication with the vast majority of UNRWA team members,” Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency, told The Associated Press. The first Gaza raid lasted 36 hours and the second a few hours.
Early Sunday, Israeli warplanes attacked two refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, health authorities said. Israel said it would continue its offensive to dismantle Hamas, despite U.S. appeals for even brief pauses to provide aid to desperate civilians.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said more than 9,700 Palestinians had been killed in the territory in the nearly month-long war, more than 4,000 of them children and minors. That number is likely to rise as Israeli troops move into dense urban neighborhoods.
Air strikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp overnight, killing at least 40 people and wounding 34 others, the health ministry said. The camp is located in the zone where the Israeli military had asked Palestinian civilians to seek refuge.
An AP reporter at a nearby hospital saw eight dead children, including a baby, admitted after the strike. A surviving child was led down the corridor with his clothes caked in dust.
Arafat Abu Mashaia, who lives in the camp, said the Israeli airstrike leveled several multi-story houses where people displaced from other parts of the Gaza Strip were seeking refuge.
“It was a real massacre,” he said. “Everyone here is peaceful people. I challenge anyone who says there was resistance (fighters) here.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Another airstrike hit a house near a school in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza. Al-Aqsa Hospital staff told the AP that at least 13 people were killed. The camp was also attacked on Thursday.
Despite appeals and demonstrations abroad, Israel has continued its bombings across the Gaza Strip, saying it is targeting Hamas and accusing it of using civilians as human shields. Critics say Israel’s attacks are often disproportionate given the large number of civilians killed.
FBI Director Christopher Wray testified Tuesday that the war between Israel and Hamas has taken terrorist threats against the United States “to a whole other level.”
On the ground, Israeli forces in Gaza have reported finding caches of weapons, including at times explosives, suicide drones and rockets.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, a day after meeting with Arab foreign ministers.
Abbas, who has no authority in Gaza since Hamas seized power in 2007, said the Palestinian Authority would only take control of Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” that establishes an independent state covering the West Bank and East Jerusalem includes and Israel lands confiscated in the 1967 war.
His comments appeared to further limit the already slim options for governing Gaza if Israel succeeds in overthrowing Hamas. The last peace talks with Israel collapsed more than a decade ago and the Israeli government is dominated by opponents of Palestinian statehood.
Blinken later visited Iraq to meet with Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani about the need to prevent Israel’s conflict from spreading in the region and efforts to increase the flow of aid to Gaza, which Blinken called “completely inadequate.” “ denoted 100 truckloads per day.
A Jordanian military cargo plane airdropped medical aid to a field hospital in northern Gaza, King Abdullah II said on social media early Monday. A trickle of aid arrived in Gaza across the land border with Egypt, but it appeared to be the first aid delivered by Jordan, a key U.S. ally that has a peace deal with Israel.
Earlier in his trip, Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reiterated on Sunday that “there will be no ceasefire without the return of our abductees.”
Arab leaders have called for an immediate ceasefire. But Blinken said that “Hamas would simply stay put and be able to regroup and repeat what it did on October 7” when it launched a sweeping attack from Gaza to southern Israel and thus starting the war.
Parts of the residential areas in the north of the Gaza Strip were razed to the ground by air strikes. The U.N. humanitarian affairs office says more than half of the remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are seeking refuge in U.N.-run facilities. The United Nations said Sunday that 88 employees of its Palestinian refugee agency were reported killed – “the highest death toll the United Nations has ever recorded in a single conflict.”
During a four-hour window on Sunday, Israeli planes again dropped leaflets urging people to fly south. Crowds of people walked with luggage or pets and pushed wheelchairs along Gaza’s main north-south highway. Others drove donkey carts.
One man said they had to run 500 meters (yards) with their hands up as they passed Israeli troops. Another described seeing bodies along the road. “The children saw tanks for the first time. Oh world, have mercy on us,” said a Palestinian who did not want to give his name.
The Israeli military said a one-way corridor remained in place for residents to flee to the south of the Gaza Strip.
According to the United Nations, about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes. Food, water and fuel for the generators that power hospitals are running low. The United Nations Palestinian Refugee Agency said no fuel had arrived for almost a month.
The war has raised tensions as Israel and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group engaged in a firefight along the border.
Four civilians were killed in an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon on Sunday evening, including three children, a local civil defense official and state media reported. The Israeli military said it attacked Hezbollah targets in response to anti-tank fire that killed an Israeli civilian. Hezbollah said it fired Grad rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon in response.
At least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli raid in Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, in the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The military said a militant who set up an armed cell and fired on Israeli forces was killed.
At least 150 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the war began.
Many Israelis have called for Netanyahu’s resignation and the return of about 240 hostages held by Hamas. Some families travel abroad to ensure the hostages are not forgotten.
The Israel Defense Forces said one of its planes hit an ambulance believed to be used by Hamas on Friday.
Netanyahu refused to accept responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,400 people. Ongoing Palestinian rocket fire has forced tens of thousands of people in Israel to flee their homes.
In another expression of widespread anger, Amihai Eliyahu, a junior government minister, suggested in a radio interview that Israel could drop a nuclear bomb on Gaza. He later called the comments “metaphorical.” Netanyahu suspended Eliyahu from cabinet meetings, a move with no practical impact.
The Israeli military said 29 of its soldiers died during the ground operation.
Forensic archaeologists and others were still searching southern Israel for remains of victims of the Oct. 7 attack. According to Jewish religious tradition, body parts must be kept together for a proper burial.
“We have to try to collect all the pieces and all the blood,” said Yitzchak Ben Shitrit, a recovery contractor.
Jobain reported from Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip and Chehayeb from Beirut. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Ramallah, West Bank; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Cara Anna in New York contributed to this report.