Israel renews attacks on Gaza refugee camp as UN warns of 'war crimes'

Biden voices support for humanitarian 'pause' in Israel war, promises to combat Islamophobia: Egypt lets in Gaza wounded, foreigners: Washington warns against attacks by settlers in West Bank: Hamas says seven hostages killed in Israeli attacks: Jordan to 'immediately' recall Israel envoy: France 'concerned' by Israeli strikes on refugee camp


November 2, 2023 08:58 AM

US voices support for humanitarian 'pause' in Israel-Hamas war

Foreigners and wounded Palestinians walk through a gate to enter the Rafah border crossing to Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip.–AFP

Israel hit Gaza's largest refugee camp with renewed air strikes Wednesday, prompting UN rights officials to warn that targeting densely populated residential areas "could amount to war crimes."

Bombs struck the Jabalia camp for a second time in two days, pulverising buildings and, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, killing dozens of people.

AFP witnessed extensive damage at the scene, with people frantically clawing through rubble to extract bloodied casualties.

Israel said its fighter jets had carried out the strike, targeting "a Hamas command and control complex" and "eliminating" an undefined number of militants.

Rescuers said "whole families" had died, but casualty details could not be immediately confirmed.

Israel has hit 11,000-plus targets in Gaza since October 7 -- when Hamas gunmen stormed into Israel and killed 1,400 people, including many civilians who were shot in cold blood.

Many nations backed Israel's right to strike back at Hamas, but as the civilian toll has mounted, so too has criticism of Israeli tactics.

According to Gaza's health ministry, 8,796 Gazans have been killed so far, mostly women and children. Whole neighbourhoods in Gaza have been levelled.

Israeli forces had already struck the Jabalia camp on Tuesday, killing at least 47 people, according to an AFP count.

- 'War crimes' -

The United Nations decried Israel's most recent bombings, joining a chorus of international condemnation from as far afield as Bolivia, which severed diplomatic ties in protest.

The UN's top human rights body -- citing "the high number of civilian casualties" and scale of destruction -- said it had "serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes."

Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel "to condemn the Israeli war that is killing innocent people in Gaza".

Israel has rejected such accusations, saying Hamas deliberately uses civilian areas to hide command posts and arsenals that are used to attack Israeli civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday's strike on Jabalia had killed Hamas battalion commander Ibrahim Biari and destroyed an underground tunnel complex.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht described Bihari as a "high-value target" who deployed Hamas commandos during the October 7 attacks and has since "overseen Hamas' battle efforts in northern Gaza."

"Our war is not with the people of Gaza," he said. "The Palestinian people deserve peace and safety. Instead they are exploited as shields."

Hamas said seven of the 240 hostages it is holding, including three foreign passport holders, died in Tuesday's bombing, a claim that was impossible to verify.

The group's leader Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel of committing "barbaric massacres against unarmed civilians", saying it was covering its own "defeats".

Biden supports humanitarian pause

President Joe Biden, when responding to a heckler at a Minnesota campaign event Wednesday night, said he thinks there should be a humanitarian "pause" in the Israeli-Hamas war to get "prisoners" out of Gaza.

The 80-year-old Democrat was delivering remarks to some 200 supporters in the northern US state when a member of the audience shouted out to him.

"As a rabbi, I need you to call for a ceasefire right now," she said, referring to the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The president responded: "I think we need a pause. A pause means giving time to get the prisoners out."

Asked about his remarks, the White House later clarified that by "prisoners" the president was referring to hostages held by Hamas.

Biden engaged further with the woman, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the nickname Bibi. "I'm the guy that convinced Bibi to call for a ceasefire to let the prisoners out. I'm the guy that talked to (Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-)Sisi to convince him to open the door" along Gaza's border with Egypt to allow freed hostages to leave.

Biden indicated that he was discussing the recent release of two US hostages formerly held by the Palestinian group.

The White House has previously called for "humanitarian pauses" to allow aid to be delivered into Gaza or to carry out evacuations, but has so far refused to discuss a ceasefire, believing it would exclusively play into the hands of Hamas.

Biden to combat Islamophobia

The administration of US President Joe Biden said Wednesday it would develop a strategy to combat Islamophobia -- an announcement that comes as tensions simmer nationwide over the war between Israel and Hamas fighters.

"President Biden ran for office to restore the soul of our nation. He is unequivocal: there is no place for hate in America against anyone. Period," White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

"For too long, Muslims in America, and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Arabs and Sikhs, have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks and other discriminatory incidents."

The strategy will be developed in concert with the communities concerned, the White House said.

Jean-Pierre singled out what she called the recent "barbaric" killing of a six-year-old Palestinian American boy outside Chicago, which police have linked to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

The US government has already launched a plan to counter anti-Semitism across the country.

The promise to do something similar to protect the Muslim community is not new, but Wednesday's announcement appeared to indicate new momentum, at a particularly charged moment.

- Egypt lets in Gaza wounded, foreigners -

The first ambulances carrying wounded Palestinians from Gaza entered Egypt where they were dispatched to various hospitals. They were followed by a first group of foreign passport holders.

Egyptian officials said 76 wounded Palestinians and 335 foreign passport holders had crossed into Egypt from Gaza on the first occasion Cairo had opened the Rafah crossing to people seeking to flee the bombardments.

The foreigners included 31 Austrians, four Italians, five French nationals and some Germans, their governments said. US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said US citizens had also crossed from Gaza but declined to give a number.

In the opposite direction, around 50 aid trucks carrying medical supplies and food entered Gaza from Egypt, a Palestinian official said.

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the first US citizens were able to leave the war-hit Gaza Strip after weeks of diplomacy and mounting frustration by hundreds of US citizens trapped in the conflict.

At the top of a speech in Minnesota, Biden said his administration is "working nonstop to get Americans out of Gaza as soon as safely as possible."

"I want to thank our partners in the region and particularly Qatar who've worked so closely with us to support negotiations to facilitate the departure of these citizens," he said.

- Hamas says 7 hostages killed -

Hamas said an Israeli strike on Jabalia refugee camp on Tuesday had killed seven hostages, three of whom held foreign passports, in a claim that was impossible to verify independently.

Hamas militants kidnapped around 240 people on October 7.

Israeli officials did not comment on the claim.

At least 47 people were killed in Tuesday's strike which Israel said had hit a vast tunnel complex, assassinating a senior Hamas commander behind the October 7 attacks.

A second round of strikes hit the camp on Wednesday, with AFPTV images showing major damage.

The Hamas-controlled health ministry said dozens were killed and wounded in the second set of strikes.

The UN said the attacks against the Jabalia camp "could amount to war crimes".

- 16 Israeli soldiers killed -

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to continue Israel's war on Hamas "until victory" despite "painful losses" inside Gaza after a day in which the army said 15 soldiers had been killed in ground fighting.

Another soldier was killed outside the territory, although the military army did not elaborate.

The deaths raised the total number of Israeli troops killed since October 7 to at least 331.

"Our soldiers have fallen in the most just of wars, the war for our home," said Netanyahu, steeling the nation for "a difficult war... a long war".

- US warns on West Bank attacks -

The US warned on Wednesday that violence by settlers in the West Bank was "incredibly destabilising".

State Department spokesman Miller called it "counterproductive to Israel's long-term security" and said the United States had been clear with Israel that the violence "needs to stop".

Violence in the territory was rising even before the Israel-Hamas war, but more than 120 West Bank Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began on October 7.

- Blinken due in Israel Friday -

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will hold talks in Israel Friday then visit other countries in the region including Jordan as Washington seeks "urgent mechanisms" to reduce regional tensions, the State Department said.

President Joe Biden and Jordan's King Abdullah II spoke Tuesday and "discussed urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce regional tensions", and also agreed it was "critical to ensure that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced outside of Gaza", the White House said.

France 'concerned' by Israeli strikes on refugee camp

France said Wednesday that it was "deeply concerned" about Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip's largest refugee camp, calling for a humanitarian pause to allow aid through.

Israeli strikes have targeted the Jabalia refugee camp twice in two days, killing and wounding dozens, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

Israel said Tuesday's raid was a successful hit on top Hamas commander Ibrahim Biari.

"France is deeply concerned about the very heavy toll on the Palestinian civilian population from the Israeli strikes against the Jabalia camp, and expresses its compassion for the victims," the government said in a press release.

Paris reiterated a call for "an immediate humanitarian truce so that aid can reach those who need it in a sustainable, safe and adequate way".

Jordan to 'immediately' recall Israel envoy

Jordan on Wednesday said it would "immediately" recall its ambassador to Israel in protest at the war against Gaza's Hamas rulers trigged by the militant group's October 7 attacks.

"Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi decided to immediately recall Jordan's ambassador to Israel," the foreign ministry said in a statement that condemned "the ongoing Israeli war that is killing innocent people in Gaza and causing an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe".

Now in its 26th day, the conflict began after Hamas militants stormed over the Gaza border and killed around 1,400 people, mostly civilians, Israeli officials say.

Israel's devastating military response in Gaza has killed 8,796 people, including 3,648 children, medics in the Hamas-run territory said on Wednesday.

The last time Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel was in 2019.

As Israel expanded its operations and sent in ground troops on Friday, Safadi warned it would result in "a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years to come" in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

In 1994, Jordan became the second Arab state to make peace with Israel after Egypt in 1979. Its population includes more than two million Palestinian refugees.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said the country "regrets the decision of the Jordanian government to recall its ambassador".

Since the war began, Jordan has seen several large protests in support of Gaza, with demonstrators demanding that it annul the peace treaty with Israel and close the Israeli embassy.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key US partner, with the two discussing "urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce regional tensions", the White House said.

Biden and King Abdullah "discussed urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric, and reduce regional tensions", and agreed it was "critical to ensure that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced outside of Gaza", a White House statement said.

Israeli fire kills two Lebanese shepherds

Lebanon's army on Thursday retrieved the bodies of two shepherds killed by Israeli fire, official media said, raising to 66 the number killed in Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to an AFP tally.

Lebanon's southern border has seen tit-for-tat exchanges, mainly between Israel and Hamas ally Hezbollah, since Hamas militants launched an unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The two shepherds, aged 20 and 22, had been reported missing on Wednesday as they herded their flock through Wazzani, their home village near the border, Lebanon's official National News Agency (NNA) reported.

"They were found dead after the (Israeli) occupation forces opened fire in their direction," the NNA said.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said Wednesday the Israeli military had "suspended fire" to allow peacekeepers and Lebanon's army to find the wounded pair, with the search called off at nightfall "due to the darkness and presence of land mines in the area".

Most of those killed in the cross-border violence have been Hezbollah fighters but the number also includes seven civilians, one of them a journalist.

A local official from the border village of Yater told AFP a 16-year-old died of his wounds on Wednesday following an Israeli bombardment.

On the Israeli side, nine people have died -- eight soldiers and one civilian, the army says.

Hezbollah said Thursday it had downed an Israeli drone with a surface-to-air missile, the second such announcement in days.

The powerful Shiite Muslim movement has been targeting Israeli observation posts and military positions near the border.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is set to speak Friday for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Israel says its aim in Gaza is to destroy Hamas following the October 7 attacks, the worst in the country's 75-year history, with officials saying militants killed 1,400 people and kidnapped 242 others.

It has been relentlessly bombarding Gaza since then, in an assault that the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 8,700 people, two-thirds of them women and children.


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