Israeli troops and tanks pushed deeper into the northern and central Gaza Strip on Monday, as UN and medical staff warned that airstrikes were landing closer to hospitals where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.
A video obtained by the Associated Press showed an Israeli tank and a bulldozer in central Gaza blocking the territory’s main north-south highway, which the Israeli military had previously told Palestinians to use to counter the expanding ground offensive to escape.
Asked whether forces were deployed on the road, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said: “We have expanded our operations” but declined to comment on specific deployments.
The video shows a car approaching an earthen barrier across the street. The car stops and turns around. As the tank drives away, it appears to open fire and an explosion rocks the car. Gaza’s Health Ministry later said three people were killed.
The Israeli advance deployed its forces on both sides of Gaza City and surrounding areas in the northern Gaza Strip, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as a “second phase” of the war sparked by Hamas’s brutal invasion on October 7. The number of casualties on both sides is expected to rise sharply as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants fight in densely populated residential areas.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians remain in the north and would no longer be able to flee if the north-south highway were blocked. Some 117,000 displaced people, along with thousands of patients and staff, are in hospitals in northern Gaza, hoping to be safe from strikes, according to the UN.
Most residents followed Israel’s orders to flee to the southern part of the besieged area, but many stayed in part because Israel had also bombed targets in so-called safe zones.
The death toll among Palestinians exceeded 8,000, mostly women and minors, Gaza’s health ministry said. The number of victims is unprecedented in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mostly civilians killed in Hamas’ first attack, also an unprecedented number.
Israeli forces appeared to be advancing deeper into the Gaza Strip from the north. Video released by the military on Monday showed armored vehicles moving between buildings and soldiers taking up positions in a house.
The military said Monday that its troops killed dozens of militants overnight who attacked from inside buildings and tunnels, and that attacks destroyed a building used by Hamas as a base. It said more than 600 targets had been attacked by militants in recent days, including weapons depots and anti-tank missile launch sites. The reports of targeted attacks could not be independently confirmed.
Hamas’s military wing said its militants clashed with Israeli troops who entered the northwestern Gaza Strip with small arms and anti-tank missiles. Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets at Israel, including towards its commercial hub Tel Aviv.
Also on Sunday, the largest convoy of humanitarian aid to date – 33 trucks – entered the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt. Aid workers say the amount is still far less than is needed in the area, where the population of 2.3 million people is running out of supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel after weeks of Israeli siege.
A third convoy carrying relief supplies passed through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt on Monday.
On Saturday, crowds broke into four U.N. facilities and stole food supplies, in what the U.N. said was a sign that civil order was beginning to collapse amid increasing desperation.
Israel’s siege has brought Gaza’s infrastructure to near collapse. With hospitals without central power for weeks, they are struggling to keep backup generators running to power incubators and other life-saving equipment. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, is trying to keep water pumps and bakeries running. Last week, U.N. officials said hunger was increasing.
The increase in aid trucks came after U.S. President Joe Biden emphasized to Netanyahu “the need to immediately and significantly increase the arrival of humanitarian assistance,” the U.S. said.
Israel also opened two water pipelines in the southern Gaza Strip last week, according to the Israeli military authority, which is responsible for Palestinian civil affairs. The Associated Press could not independently verify whether any of the lines were working.
Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents were able to communicate again Sunday after more than a day without phone and internet services.
Meanwhile, overcrowded hospitals in northern Gaza were increasingly in danger. Strikes have broken out near Shifa and Al Quds hospitals in Gaza City and the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza in recent days, the United Nations and residents said on Monday.
All 10 hospitals in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders in recent days, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. Staff refused to leave, saying the evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.
Tens of thousands of civilians are housed in Shifa Hospital, the largest in the region. Israel accuses Hamas of having a secret command post beneath the hospital, but has not provided much evidence. Hamas denies the allegations.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Rescue Service, attacks occurred within 50 meters (yards) of Al-Quds Hospital after it received two calls from Israeli authorities ordering an evacuation on Sunday. Some windows were blown out and rooms were covered in debris. It was said that 14,000 people were housed there.
About 20,000 people are staying at Nasser Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis, emergency director Dr. Mohammed Qandeel.
“I made my children sleep here,” said one displaced resident, who gave her name only as Umm Ahmad. “I used to be afraid of my children playing in the sand. Now her hands are dirty from the blood on the floor.”
The military escalation has increased domestic pressure on the Israeli government to secure the release of 239 hostages seized from Hamas militants during the Oct. 7 attack.
Photos: Israel-Hamas War
Hamas says it is ready to release all hostages if Israel releases all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons. Desperate family members of the Israeli prisoners met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange. Israel rejected Hamas’ offer.
“If Hamas does not feel military pressure, nothing will progress,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told the families of the hostages on Sunday.
The Israeli military has not described its gradually increasing ground operations in Gaza as a full-scale invasion
Israel says it is targeting Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate among civilians, putting them in danger.
The fighting has raised concerns that violence could spread across the region. Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah engage in daily battles along Israel’s northern border.
In the West Bank, at least four Palestinians were killed early Monday in clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians in Jenin, where there have been repeated Israeli raids against gunmen. As of Sunday, Israeli troops and settlers killed 115 Palestinians, including 33 minors, in the West Bank, half of them in Israeli search and arrest operations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHA) said.
The Israeli military said early Monday that its planes had hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there hit open Israeli territory.
According to the Israeli military, around 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes due to the violence along the border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon.
Magdy reported from Cairo and Keath from Athens. Associated Press writers Julia Frankel and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report.