DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel faced pressure from some of its closest allies Wednesday over the plight of civilians in Gaza, where thousands streamed on foot out of the enclave’s north because of dwindling food and water and increased fighting in urban areas.
Over 70% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have already left their homes, but the number making their way south has quickened recently as Israeli troops battle Hamas militants inside Gaza City and the humanitarian situation grows increasingly dire.
The Group of Seven wealthy industrial nations announced a unified stance on the Israel-Hamas war after intensive meetings in Tokyo, condemning Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. But the group also called Wednesday for the “unimpeded” delivery of food, water, medicine and fuel, and for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left open the possibility of small pauses to deliver humanitarian aid, but has ruled out a broader cease-fire unless all hostages are freed.
There is no end in sight to the war triggered by Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 assault inside Israel.
Israel has said the battle to end Hamas’ rule and crush its military capabilities will be long and difficult, and that it will maintain some form of control over the coastal enclave indefinitely — though how it will achieve that remains unclear.
Support for the war remains strong inside Israel, where the focus has been on the fate of the more than 240 hostages taken by Hamas and other militant groups.
THE ROAD OUT OF THE NORTH
About 15,000 people fled northern Gaza on Tuesday — triple the number that left Monday — according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
On Wednesday, thousands more made their way down Salah al-Din Street, Gaza’s main north-south highway, during a daily window set by Israel, now extended to five hours.
Families filled the road, almost all on foot, with men and women carrying young children or pushing the elderly on makeshift carts. Most had only a few belongings in backpacks. A few families rode on donkey carts, holding white flags as they approached Israeli tanks. The U.N. said some reported people arrested as they crossed Israeli checkpoints.
“We didn’t have food or drinking water … They struck the bakeries. There is no life in Gaza,” said Abeer Akila, who left her home in Gaza City with her family and neighbors after heavy bombardment overnight.
Residents reported loud explosions overnight into Wednesday across Gaza City and in the adjacent Shati refugee camp, which houses Palestinian families who fled from or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its establishment.
The Israeli army’s chief spokesperson, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said late Tuesday that ground forces had reached “the depths of Gaza City.” The army said Wednesday that it killed one of Hamas’ leading developers of rockets and other weapons, without saying where he was killed.
Hamas has denied that Israeli troops have made any significant gains or entered Gaza City. It was not possible to independently confirm battlefield claims from either side.
Israel is focusing its operations on the city, which was home to some 650,000 people before the war and where the military says Hamas has its central command and a labyrinth of tunnels.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have heeded Israeli orders in recent weeks to flee the north. But tens of thousands remain, many sheltering at hospitals or U.N. schools.
The trickle of aid entering Gaza from the south is largely barred from going north, which has been without running water for weeks. Hospitals running low on supplies are performing surgeries — including amputations — without anesthesia, the U.N. aid office said. It said the last functioning bakeries shut down Tuesday for lack of fuel, water and flour, and some of those on the road south have talked about living on only one piece of pita bread a day.
Majed Haroun, a teacher who remains in Gaza City, said women and children who lost families go door to door begging for food.
“No words can describe what we are experiencing,” he said.
CONDITIONS LITTLE BETTER IN THE SOUTH
The new arrivals from the north are squeezing into homes with extended family or in U.N. schools-turned-shelters where hundreds of thousands are taking refuge. At one, 600 people must share a single toilet, according to the U.N. office.
Israeli strikes have continued in the southern zone. One on Wednesday hit a family house in the Nuseirat refugee camp, killing at least 18 people and wounding dozens of others, according to Iyad Abu Zaher, director of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, where the dead and wounded were brought. He said the toll could rise as medics and first responders searched the rubble.
Hundreds of trucks carrying aid have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since Oct. 21.
But “there is an ocean of needs in Gaza right now, and what’s been getting in is a drop in the ocean. We need fuel, we need water, we need food, and we need medical supplies,” Dominic Allen of the United Nations Population Fund said, speaking from the West Bank.
In the maternity ward at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, doctors say they have seen a sharp rise in premature births that they blame on the trauma of the war.
In one bed, Shouq Hararah was recovering after giving birth to premature twins three days ago; a boy and a girl. “There were no proper birth procedures, no anesthesia, painkillers, or anything” she said.
A month of relentless bombardment in Gaza since the Hamas attack has killed more than 10,500 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. More than 2,300 others are believed to have been buried by strikes that in some cases have demolished entire city blocks.
More than 1,400 people have died in Israel since the start of the war, most of them civilians killed by Hamas militants during their incursion. Israel says 32 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the ground offensive began, and Palestinian militants have continued to fire rockets into Israel on a daily basis.
Israeli officials say thousands of Palestinian militants have been killed, and blame civilian deaths on Hamas, accusing it of operating in residential areas. Gaza’s Health Ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its casualty reports.
The war has stoked wider tensions, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group trading fire along the border. More than 160 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli-occupied West Bank since the war began, mainly during violent protests and gunbattles with Israeli forces during arrest raids. Some 250,000 Israelis have been forced to evacuate from communities along the borders with Gaza and Lebanon.
Associated Press writers Najib Jobain in Khan Younis, Samy Magdy reported from Cairo and Amy Teibel in Jerusalem contributed to this report. Jeffery and Keath reported from Cairo.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war