DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza came under the third total communications outage since the start of the war, while Israel’s military announced late Sunday that 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. Strong explosions were seen in the northern Gaza Strip after nightfall.
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 convey details of 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.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck two central Gaza refugee camps, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, health officials said. Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush the territory’s Hamas rulers, despite U.S. appeals for even brief pauses to get aid to desperate civilians.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, a number likely to rise as Israeli troops advance into dense, urban neighborhoods.
Airstrikes hit the Maghazi refugee camp overnight, killing at least 40 people and wounding 34 others, the Health Ministry said. The camp is in the zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians to seek refuge as it focuses its offensive on the north.
An AP reporter at a nearby hospital saw eight dead children, including a baby, brought in after the strike. A surviving child was led down the corridor, her clothes caked in dust, an expression of shock on her face.
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. “All here are peaceful people. I challenge anyone who says there were resistance (fighters) here.”
There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.
Another airstrike hit a house near a school at the Bureji refugee camp in central Gaza, and staff at Al-Aqsa Hospital told the AP at least 13 people were killed. The camp is home to an estimated 46,000 people and was struck on Thursday as well.
Despite appeals and overseas demonstrations, Israel has continued its bombardment across Gaza, saying it is targeting Hamas and accusing it of using civilians as human shields. Critics say Israel’s strikes are often disproportionate, considering the large number of civilians killed.
On the ground, Israeli forces in Gaza have reported finding stashes of weapons at times, including explosives, suicide drones and missiles.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, a day after talks with Arab foreign ministers in neighboring Jordan.
Abbas, who has had no authority in Gaza since Hamas took over in 2007, said the Palestinian Authority would only assume control of Gaza as part of a “comprehensive political solution” establishing an independent state that would also take in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, lands Israel seized in the 1967 war.
His remarks seemed to further narrow the already slim options for who would govern Gaza if Israel succeeds in toppling Hamas. The last peace talks with Israel broke down more than a decade ago, and Israel’s government is dominated by opponents of Palestinian statehood.
Earlier in his tour, Blinken met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday reiterated while visiting an air force base that “there will be no cease-fire without the return of our abductees.”
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 it launched a wide-ranging attack from Gaza into southern Israel, triggering the war.
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.
Israeli planes once again dropped leaflets urging people to head south during a four-hour window on Sunday. Crowds could be seen walking down Gaza’s main north-south highway carrying baggage, pets and pushing wheelchairs. Others led donkey carts.
One man said they had to walk 500 meters (yards) with their hands raised while passing Israeli troops. Another described seeing bodies in damaged cars along the road. “The children saw tanks for the first time. Oh world, have mercy on us,” said one Palestinian who declined to give his name.
Israeli’s military said a one-way corridor would continue for residents in the north to flee to the southern part of Gaza.
The U.N. said about 1.5 million people in Gaza, or 70% of the population, have fled their homes. Food, water and the fuel needed for generators that power hospitals and other facilities is running out. No fuel has come for nearly one month, the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency said.
The war has stoked tensions across the region, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group repeatedly trading fire along the border.
Four civilians were killed by an Israeli airstrike in south Lebanon Sunday evening, three of them children, a local civil defense official and state-run media reported. The Israeli military said it had attacked Hezbollah targets in response to anti-tank fire that killed an Israeli civilian.
Hezbollah said they fired Grad rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel in response.
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.
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 raids.
Many Israelis have called for Netanyahu to resign and for the return of roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas. Some families are traveling abroad to try to make sure the hostages aren’t forgotten.
Netanyahu has refused to take responsibility for the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,400 people. Ongoing Palestinian rocket fire has forced tens of thousands of people in Israel to leave their homes.
In another reflection of widespread anger in Israel, a junior government minister, Amihai Eliyahu, suggested in a radio interview that Israel could drop an atomic bomb on Gaza. He later called the remarks “metaphorical.” Netanyahu suspended Eliyahu from cabinet meetings, a move with no practical effect.
The Israeli military said 29 of its soldiers have died during the ground operation.
Jobain reported from Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, and Chehayeb from Beirut. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Ramallah, West Bank; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Julia Frankel in Jerusalem and Cara Anna in New York contributed to this report.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war