Israel strikes Gaza targets as death toll rises amidst concerns over civilians

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3rd December 2023 – (Gaza) Israel conducted airstrikes on Gaza targets on Sunday, December 3, as its conflict with Hamas continues to escalate. The recent attacks come after the expiration of a week-long truce, sparking international concern over the rising civilian death toll. Hamas reports that over 15,200 people have been killed in the besieged Palestinian territory since the resumption of fighting. The UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, confirms at least 160 Palestinian deaths in two incidents on Saturday, including the bombing of a six-storey building in Jabaliya refugee camp and an entire block in a Gaza City neighbourhood.

Sunday witnessed repeated bursts of heavy automatic weapon fire and dark smoke rising over northern Gaza, as seen on AFPTV’s livecam. The Hamas government reported 240 deaths since the truce expired and the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, expressed deep concern over the situation, calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel has expressed its determination to eliminate Hamas, while the militant group has refused to release more hostages until a permanent ceasefire is established. Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas’s politburo, stated that the release of all prisoners would only occur after a ceasefire.

Israel’s military, which has focused on northern Gaza in recent weeks, has expanded its strikes to the territory’s south. It has also advised Palestinians in the area to seek safe zones. In response, Hamas and Islamic Jihad launched rocket barrages targeting multiple Israeli cities and towns, including Tel Aviv. Israel confirmed the deaths of two soldiers in combat, marking the first casualties since the truce ended. The military reported that a drone strike eliminated five Hamas militants, and fighter jets, helicopters, and naval forces targeted various Hamas assets.

On Sunday, the Hamas government announced that at least seven people were killed in an Israeli bombing near Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. The United States, Israel’s ally, intensified calls for the protection of Gaza’s civilians, with Vice President Kamala Harris stating that too many innocent Palestinians had been killed. OCHA estimated that around 1.8 million people in Gaza, approximately 75% of the population, had been displaced, many taking refuge in overcrowded and unsanitary shelters.

The conflict initially erupted when Hamas militants breached Gaza’s militarized border into Israel on October 7, resulting in approximately 1,200 deaths, mainly civilians, and the capture of around 240 hostages, according to Israeli authorities. Israel launched an air and ground campaign, vowing to eliminate Hamas. In exchange for the release of 80 Israeli hostages, a truce was brokered by Qatar, with support from Egypt and the United States. However, negotiations reached an impasse, leading to the withdrawal of Israeli negotiators from Qatar.

Israeli hostages who were released publicly appealed to their government to secure the release of the remaining captives. French President Emmanuel Macron called for intensified efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire, release all hostages, provide more aid to Gaza, and ensure Israel’s security. Macron also questioned the feasibility of completely destroying Hamas, stating that such an objective could extend the war for ten years.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emphasised that Israel would continue the war until all its aims were achieved and that the ground campaign was necessary for a total victory against Hamas. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin drew on his experience fighting the Islamic State group, urging Israel to protect non-combatants and highlighting the importance of safeguarding civilians in urban warfare.