Renewed Gaza fighting stretches into second day after Israel-Hamas truce collapses

A Palestinian carries a casualty following an Israeli strike on a house, after a temporary truce between Hamas and Israel expired, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip December 1, 2023. REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

Renewed fighting in Gaza stretched into a second day today after talks to extend a week-old truce with Hamas collapsed and mediators said Israeli bombardments were complicating attempts to again pause hostilities.

Eastern areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza came under intense bombardment as the truce deadline lapsed shortly after dawn yesterday, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, Reuters journalists in the city said.

By yesterday evening, Gaza health officials said Israeli air strikes had killed 184 people, wounded at least 589 others and hit more than 20 houses.

Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, searching for shelter further west.

The warring sides blamed the other for the collapse of the truce by rejecting terms to extend the daily release of hostages held by militants in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The United Nations said the fighting would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency. “Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza,” said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the UN humanitarian office in Geneva.

“Today, in a matter of hours, scores were reportedly killed and injured. Families were told to evacuate, again. Hopes were dashed,” said UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, adding that children, women and men of Gaza had “nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on.”

A pause that started on November 24 had been extended twice and Israel had said it could continue as long as Hamas released 10 hostages each day. But after seven days during which women, children and foreign hostages were freed, mediators failed to find a formula to release more, including Israeli soldiers and civilian men.

Israel accused Hamas of refusing to release all the women it held. A Palestinian official said the breakdown occurred over female Israeli soldiers.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas after an October 7 rampage in which it says the militant group killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage.

Israeli assaults since have laid waste much of Gaza, which Hamas has ruled since 2007. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been killed and thousands are missing.

Qatar says negotiations continuing

Qatar, which has played a central role as mediator, said negotiations were still going on with Israelis and Palestinians to restore the truce, but Israel’s renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated matters.

In the north of Gaza, previously the main war zone, huge plumes of smoke rose above the ruins, seen from across the fence in Israel. Gunfire and explosions rang out above the sound of barking dogs.

Residents and officials from Hamas said its fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades battled Israeli troops and tanks in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in the north.

Sirens blared across southern Israel as militants fired rockets from the coastal enclave into towns. Hamas said it had targeted Tel Aviv, but there were no reports of casualties or damage there.

There were casualties reported in southern Lebanon, another flashpoint of conflict for Israel. A Lebanese official said Israeli shelling killed three people yesterday. The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, said it had carried out several attacks on Israeli military positions at the border in support of Palestinians.

The Israeli army said its artillery struck sources of fire from Lebanon and air defences had intercepted two launches. Reuters could not confirm any of the battlefield accounts.

US and Hamas trade accusations

The United States blamed Hamas for the renewed fighting, saying it had failed to produce a new list of hostages to release.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ending a trip to the region, said Hamas had started firing rockets before the pause in hostilities expired, had carried out a deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem on Thursday and had not followed through on commitments on hostages.

Democratic US Senator Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Washington should be putting pressure on Israel, telling Reuters:

“We should be pushing Israel to realise this is not only a military conflict, but it is a conflict for hearts and minds of people in the world and people in United States.”

Hamas accused Washington of giving a green light for an Israeli “war of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

“Today, it brazenly repeats the Zionist lies, which hold Hamas responsible for resuming the war and not extending the humanitarian truce,” it said in a statement.

Israel said its ground, air and naval forces struck more than 200 “terror targets” in Gaza.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces had stopped all deliveries of aid into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

COGAT, the Israeli agency for civilian coordination with the Palestinians, said aid agreed under the truce had been stopped but, at Washington’s request, “dozens” of other trucks with water, food and medical supplies had reached the enclave.

Gazans said they feared the bombing of southern parts of the territory could herald an expansion of the war into areas Israel had previously described as safe.

The United States is working on a plan with Israel to minimize harm to civilians in any military operation in southern Gaza, a senior US official said. Yesterday’s bombing was most intense in Khan Younis and Rafah in the south, however, medics and witnesses said. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been sheltering there because of fighting in the north.

Leaflets dropped on eastern areas of Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate — not to other areas in Khan Younis as in the past, but further south to Rafah.

“You have been warned,” said the leaflets, written in Arabic.

Israel released a link to a map showing Gaza divided into hundreds of districts, which it said would be used in future to communicate which areas were safe.

In Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.