Airstrikes hit camps in central Gaza as Biden administration approves

Airstrikes hit camps in central Gaza as Biden administration approves new arms sales to Israel – TribLIVE

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck two urban refugee camps in central Gaza on Saturday as the Biden administration approved a new emergency arms sale to Israel despite ongoing international calls for a ceasefire amid rising civilian deaths, hunger and mass displacement in the enclave.

Even a brief pause in the fighting seems unattainable. A senior Hamas official told the Associated Press in Beirut that the group had not wavered from its position that a permanent ceasefire must be the starting point for further releases of Israeli and foreign hostages, contradicting a recent proposal by Egypt for a gradual end to the war.

It is a demand that Israel will inevitably reject. Israel has said it will continue its unprecedented air and ground offensive until it crushes Hamas, a goal seen by some as unattainable due to the militant group's deep roots in Palestinian society. The United States has protected Israel diplomatically and continued to supply weapons.

Israel argues that an immediate end to the war would mean victory for Hamas, a stance shared by the Biden administration, which at the same time urged Israel to do more to avoid harm to Palestinian civilians.

The war sparked by the deadly Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 has killed more than 21,600 Palestinians, with 165 people killed in the last 24 hours, the health ministry in Gaza said on Saturday. The fighting has displaced about 85% of Gaza's 2.3 million residents, and scores of people have sought refuge in Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless bombed. Palestinians are left with the feeling that nowhere is safe in the tiny enclave.

As Israeli forces pushed deeper into the southern town of Khan Younis and camps in the central Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of Palestinians have poured into the already overcrowded town of Rafah at the southernmost end of the Gaza Strip in recent days.

Thousands of tents and makeshift huts have sprung up on the outskirts of Rafah next to UN warehouses. The displaced people came to Rafah on foot or in trucks and carts full of mattresses. Those who couldn't find space in the overcrowded shelters pitched tents on the side of the road.

“We don’t have any water. We don’t have enough food,” said Nour Daher, a displaced woman, from the sprawling tent camp on Saturday. “The children wake up in the morning and want to eat and drink. It took us an hour to find water for her. We couldn't bring them flour. Even when we wanted to take her to the toilet, it took us an hour to walk.”

In the urban refugee camps of Nuseirat and Bureij in the center of the Gaza Strip, residents reported airstrikes overnight and into Saturday.

Nuseirat resident Mustafa Abu Wawee said a strike hit the home of one of his relatives, killing two people.

“The (Israeli) occupation is doing everything to force people to leave,” he said by phone as he and others searched for four missing people under the rubble. “They want to break our spirit and will, but they will fail. We are here to stay.”

More US weapons for Israel

The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had informed Congress that he had approved a sale of $147.5 million in equipment, including detonators, charges and detonators used for 155 million previously purchased by Israel. mm grenades would be needed.

It was the second time this month that the Biden administration has bypassed Congress to approve an emergency arms sale to Israel. The ministry cited the “urgency of Israel’s defense needs” as the reason for the approval.

Blinken made a similar decision on December 9, authorizing the sale of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million to Israel.

Both moves came as President Joe Biden's request for a nearly $106 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and other national security needs remains stalled in Congress amid a debate over U.S. immigration policy and border security. Some Democratic lawmakers have talked about making proposed $14.3 billion in American aid to their Middle East ally conditional on concrete steps by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to address civilian casualties in Gaza during the war with Hamas.

Difficulty providing assistance

More than a week after a U.N. Security Council resolution called for the unimpeded delivery of large-scale aid to the besieged Gaza Strip, conditions have only worsened, U.N. agencies have warned.

Aid workers said aid reaching Gaza remained woefully inadequate. Distribution of goods is being complicated by long delays at two border crossings, ongoing fighting, Israeli airstrikes, repeated cuts in internet and phone services and a breakdown in law and order that is making it difficult to secure aid convoys, they said.

Almost the entire population is completely dependent on outside humanitarian aid, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. A quarter of the population is starving because too few trucks are arriving with food, medicine, fuel and other aid – sometimes fewer than 100 trucks a day, according to UN daily reports.

UN monitors said operations at the Israeli-operated Kerem Shalom border crossing were suspended for four days this week due to security incidents including a drone strike and the seizure of aid by desperate Gaza residents.

They said the crossing reopened on Friday and a total of 81 aid trucks entered the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom and the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border – a fraction of the typical prewar volume of 500 trucks per day.

Trade in hostages

Gaza's Health Ministry said on Saturday that the Palestinian death toll since the start of the war had risen to 21,672 and another 56,165 people had been injured over the same period. The ministry does not distinguish between deaths of combatants and civilians, but said about 70% of those killed were women and children.

Israeli officials, meanwhile, have vowed to return more than 100 hostages still held in Gaza after militants captured more than 240 hostages in the Oct. 7 attack that also killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

The military says 168 of its soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began.

Mediator Egypt has proposed a multi-stage plan that would begin with an exchange of hostages for prisoners, accompanied by a temporary ceasefire – similar to an exchange during a week-long ceasefire in November.

At a later stage, talks would begin on forming a transitional Palestinian government of experts that would govern both Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel and Hamas remain far apart over the terms of a ceasefire and future exchanges.

“We have made it clear that a full ceasefire is the first step,” Osama Hamdan, a senior Hamas official in Beirut, said on Saturday. This position appears to undermine the Egyptian plan, although Hamdan also said that talks were continuing.

“There are also ideas that we have received through our brothers in Qatar and we have not given a final answer yet,” he said. “It may take a while. We would like to talk about the details as the idea put forward today may develop differently and may not be brought up again at all.”