Internet and phone service was partially restored to the Gaza Strip on Saturday, ending a telecommunications blackout that forced the United Nations to shut down critical humanitarian aid deliveries because it was unable to coordinate its convoys.
Meantime, an Israeli airstrike hit a residential building on the outskirts of the town of Khan Younis, killing at least 26 Palestinians, according to a doctor at the hospital where the bodies were taken.
Early in the war, the Israeli military told civilians to flee northern Gaza, the target of its ground offensive, but also kept up its bombardment in the southern evacuation zone where Khan Younis is located.
Israel has signaled plans to expand its offensive south while continuing operations in the north, including Gaza City, where troops were still searching the territory’s biggest hospital, Shifa, for traces of a Hamas command center that Israel alleges was located under the building — a claim Hamas and the hospital staff deny.
In Khan Younis, the attack early Saturday hit Hamad City, a middle-class housing development built in recent years with funding from Qatar. In addition to the 26 people killed, another 20 were wounded, said Dr. Nehad Taeima at Nasser Hospital.
Israel rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it is targeting Hamas and trying to avoid harm to civilians. In many of the Israeli strikes, women and children have been among the dead.
The war, now in its seventh week, was triggered by Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel, in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducted some 240 men, women and children.
More than 11,400 Palestinians have been killed in the war, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried under rubble. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
The U.N. has warned that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are running critically short of food and water, but it was not immediately clear when the agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, would be able to resume the delivery of aid that was put on hold Friday.
The Palestinian telecommunications provider said it was able to restart its generators after UNRWA donated fuel. The end of the communications blackout meant a return to news and messages from journalists and activists in the besieged enclave on social media platforms as service began to return late Friday night.
AID DRIES UP
Gaza’s main power plant shut down early in the war and Israel has cut off the electricity supply. That makes fuel necessary to power the generators needed to run not only the telecommunications network, but water treatment plants, sanitation facilities hospitals and other critical infrastructure.
Israel has barred entry of fuel since the start of the war, saying it would be diverted by Hamas for military means. It has also blocked food, water and other supplies except for a trickle of aid from Egypt that aid workers say falls far short of what’s needed.
Going forward, Israel said it would allow in 10,000 liters (2,641 gallons) of fuel daily for communications service to continue, according to the U.S. State Department. Additionally, Israel agreed Friday after an American request to let a “very minimal” amount of fuel into Gaza each day for humanitarian purposes, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said. COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian affairs, said it would amount to 60,000 liters (15,850 gallons) a day for the U.N.
Still, that is only 37% of the fuel needed by UNRWA to support its humanitarian operations, including food distribution and the operation of generators at hospitals and water and sanitation facilities, the U.N. said.
Gaza has received only 10% of its required food supplies each day in shipments from Egypt, according to the U.N., and the water system shutdown has left most of the population drinking contaminated water, causing an outbreak of disease.
Dehydration and malnutrition are growing, with nearly all residents in need of food, according to the U.N.’s World Food Program.
MARCH FOR HOSTAGES
Israeli officials previously vowed fuel would not be let in until Gaza militants release the hostages. The government has been under heavy public pressure to show it is doing all it can to bring back people abducted in Hamas’ attack.
Thousands of marchers — including families of over 50 hostages — embarked Friday on the fourth leg of a five-day walk from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, chanting, “Bring them home!” They were marching to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to call on his war Cabinet to do more to rescue their loved ones. They have urged the Cabinet to consider a cease-fire or prisoner swap in return for the hostages.
Hamas offered to exchange all hostages for some 6,000 Palestinians in Israeli jails, which the Cabinet rejected.
CONDITIONS AT SHIFA
With Israeli troops fanned out around the Shifa Hospital complex, doctors spoke of horrifying conditions inside. Electricity has been out for nearly a week, leaving incubators for infants and ventilators for ICU patients defunct. Nearly 7,000 people are trapped there with little food, including patients, staff and civilian families.
Hospital Director Mohammed Abu Selmia told Al Jazeera television that Israeli troops should either bring them fuel to power equipment or allow an evacuation.
“The hospital has become a giant prison,” he said. “We are surrounded by death.”
Israel’s military said it delivered 4,000 liters (1,056 gallons) of water and 1,500 ready-made meals to Shifa, but staff said it was too little for the numbers of people there.
Israeli military spokesperson Col. Richard Hecht acknowledged that the troops’ search for traces of Hamas was going slowly. “It’s going to take time,” he said.
Israel faces pressure to prove its claim that Hamas set up its main command center in and under the hospital. So far, Israel has shown photos and video of weapons caches that it says were found inside, as well as what it said was a tunnel entrance. The AP could not independently verify the Israeli claims.
The allegations are part of Israel’s broader accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields across the Gaza Strip, contending that is the reason for the large numbers of civilian casualties during weeks of bombardment.
STRIKING THE SOUTH
So far, Israel’s ground assault has focused on northern Gaza as it vows to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities. If the assault moves into the south, it is not clear where Palestinians can go. Egypt has refused to allow a mass transfer onto its soil.
Most of the territory’s population is now sheltering in the south, including hundreds of thousands of people who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate Gaza City and the north to get out of the way of its ground offensive.
In addition to the attacks Friday and Saturday in the Khan Younis area, another 41 people were killed Friday in a strike that hit the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, which turned a building to rubble, according to staff from a nearby hospital.
Magdy reported from Cairo, Rising from Bangkok.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.