Gaza came under its third total communications outage since the start of the war late Sunday, while Israel’s military announced it had encircled Gaza City and divided the besieged coastal strip into two.
“Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters, calling it a “significant stage” in Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group. Israeli media reported that troops are expected to enter Gaza City within 48 hours.
But the “new collapse in connectivity” across Gaza reported by internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmed by Palestinian telecom company Paltel made it even more complicated to share details on the new stage of the military offensive.
“We have lost communication with the vast majority of the UNRWA team members,” U.N. Palestinian refugee agency spokesperson Juliette Touma told The Associated Press. The first Gaza outage lasted 36 hours and the second one for a few hours, complicating efforts to share events on the ground.
Israeli airstrikes hit two refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip on Sunday, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, officials from the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said. The strikes came as Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush the territory’s Hamas rulers, despite U.S. appeals for a pause to get aid to desperate civilians.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has sparked growing international anger, with tens of thousands from Washington to Berlin taking to the streets Saturday to demand an immediate cease-fire.
Israel has rejected the idea of halting its offensive, even for brief humanitarian pauses proposed by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his current tour of the region. Instead, it said that Hamas was “encountering the full force” of its troops.
“Anyone in Gaza City is risking their life,” Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said.
Large columns of smoke rose as Israel’s military said it had encircled Gaza City, the initial target of its offensive. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, and that number is likely to rise.
Airstrikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza overnight, killing at least 40 people and wounding 34 others, the Health Ministry said. It said first responders and residents were still digging through the rubble, hoping to find survivors.
An Associated Press reporter at a nearby hospital saw eight dead children, including a baby, who had been brought in after the strike. A surviving child was led down the hospital corridor by an adult holding her hand, her clothes caked in dust, an expression of shock on her face.
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Arafat Abu Mashaia, who lives in the camp, said the Israeli airstrike flattened several multi-story homes where people forced out of other parts of Gaza were sheltering.
“It was a true massacre,” he said early Sunday while standing on the wreckage of destroyed homes. “All here are peaceful people. I challenge anyone who says there were resistance (fighters) here.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
The camp, a built-up residential area, is located in the evacuation zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians in Gaza to seek refuge as it focuses its military offensive on the north.
Despite such appeals, Israel has continued its bombardment across Gaza, saying it is targeting Hamas fighters and assets everywhere and accusing it of using civilians as human shields.
Canadian exit delayed
The departure of approximately 200 Canadians trapped in Gaza Sunday has been delayed.
Ambassador of Canada to Egypt, Louis Demas, told Global News the hold up is due to a “disagreement between the different parties.”
Demas explained that Hamas wanted to have a certain number of individuals cross into Egypt Sunday, to which the Israelis and Egypt have refused.
“Hamas essentially said if these 50 individuals that who are of interest to Hamas cannot go through, that nobody goes through. So that’s the standstill that we are facing at the moment,” Demas said.
Global Affairs Canada (GAC) says it was informed by Israel’s military that more than 400 people with ties to the country will be able to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing in the coming days.
Canadians eligible to leave Gaza include citizens, permanent residents and their dependents. Demas says he is working closely with the Egyptian government to identify another 100 or so others to get them back to Canada.
There are 216 Canadians currently scheduled to depart Gaza on Monday, which Demas says he is “hopeful” will pan out.
He added that he doesn’t see Canadians as at the “back of the line.”
“We have to keep in mind that other countries such as Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Romania… They have not yet been on the list. So the fact that Canada has this turn is a very positive development,” he said.
GAC said consular officials will facilitate transportation to Cairo once people are in Egypt, but they will only be allowed to stay in the country for up to three days.
The federal government says it will offer food, accommodation and basic necessities for people crossing into Egypt.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s been working with officials and allies to get Canadians out of Gaza safely.
“We’ve been there from the very beginning for people leaving the West Bank, for people leaving Israel since Oct. 7. We will continue to be there to help Canadians and their families get to safety,” Trudeau told reporters on Friday.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Trudeau in a meeting Saturday that Canadians in Gaza will be able to leave “in the coming days,” a news release says.
Trudeau renewed the call for a humanitarian pause in Gaza on Wednesday, saying the “price of justice” for Israel seeking to eliminate Hamas for its deadly Oct. 7 attack can’t be the “continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians.”
Trudeau highlighted his concerns with the “dire humanitarian crisis” in his meeting with Netanyahu Saturday, saying he “reiterated Canada’s position on the immediate need to create conditions for urgent and necessary humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza.”
“Prime Minister Trudeau underscored Canada’s enduring support for a two-state solution and for the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, dignity, and security,” the release says.
Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, a day after meeting with Arab foreign ministers in neighboring Jordan. Abbas has had no authority in Gaza since Hamas routed forces loyal to him in 2007.
Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday, who insisted there could be no temporary cease-fire until all hostages held by Hamas are released.
Arab leaders have called for an immediate cease-fire. But Blinken said that “would simply leave Hamas in place, able to regroup and repeat what it did on Oct. 7,” when the group launched a wide-ranging attack from Gaza into southern Israel, triggering the war.
He said humanitarian pauses can be critical in protecting civilians, getting aid in and getting foreign nationals out, “while still enabling Israel to achieve its objective, the defeat of Hamas.”
Egyptian officials said they and Qatar were proposing humanitarian pauses for six to 12 hours daily to allow aid in and casualties to be evacuated. They were also asking for Israel to release a number of women and elderly prisoners in exchange for hostages, suggestions Israel seemed unlikely to accept. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press on the discussions.
Tensions across the middle east
Swaths of residential neighborhoods in northern Gaza have been leveled in airstrikes. The U.N. office for humanitarian affairs says more than half the remaining residents, estimated at around 300,000, are sheltering in U.N.-run facilities. But deadly Israeli strikes have also repeatedly hit and damaged those shelters.
Israeli planes dropped leaflets urging people to head south from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Few appear to have heeded a similar order the day before.
An Israeli airstrike overnight struck a water well in Tal al-Zatar in northern Gaza, cutting off water for tens of thousands of people, the Hamas-run municipality in the town of Beit Lahia said in a statement early Sunday.
The U.N. said about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70 per cent of the population, have fled their homes. Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals and other facilities is running out.
The war has stoked tensions across the region, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group repeatedly trading fire along the border.
In the occupied West Bank, at least two Palestinians were shot dead during an Israeli arrest raid in Abu Dis, just outside of Jerusalem, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. The military said a militant who had set up an armed cell and fired at Israeli forces was killed during the raid.
At least 150 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the war, mainly during violent protests and gun battles during arrest raids.
Thousands of Israelis protested outside Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday, urging him to resign and calling for the return of roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas. Netanyahu has refused to take responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack in southern Israel that killed more than 1,400 people. Ongoing Palestinian rocket fire has forced tens of thousands of people in Israel to evacuate their homes.
In another reflection of widespread anger in Israel, a junior government minister, Amihai Eliyahu, suggested in a radio interview Sunday that Israel could drop an atomic bomb on Gaza. He later walked back the remarks, saying they were “metaphorical.” Netanyahu issued a statement saying the minister’s comments were “not based in reality” and that Israel would continue to try to avoid harming civilians.
Among the Palestinians killed in Gaza are more than 4,800 Palestinian children, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown of civilians and fighters.
The Israeli military said 29 of its soldiers have died during the ground operation.
–with files from Global News.