Intensive Israeli ground operations in Gaza overnight have raised the Palestinian death toll to over 400 on Sunday, after the strip witnessed one of the deadliest days of fighting since the start of Israeli military action.
Gaza’s Health Ministry spokesmen Ashraf Al-Qedra said at least 60 people died and over 200 were injured in Gaza’s Al-Shuja’iah neighbourhood alone, hours after Israel vowed to expand its ground offensive. Israel agreed to a request by the International Committee of the Red Cross to hold a two hour long ceasefire in Al-Shuja’iah, from 1.30 to 3.30pm on Sunday afternoon.
The decision came shortly after thick clouds of smoke could be seen rising over Gaza’s skies from the damage caused by the Israeli air, naval and ground strikes. The Al-Shujai’iah deaths include 17 children, 14 women and 4 elderly people.
The IDF defended its actions in Al-Shuja’iah, describing the neighbourhood as a “fortress for Hamas terrorists”. The IDF added: “Days ago, we warned civilians in Al-Shuja’iah to evacuate. Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.”
The Israeli death toll as of Sunday had reached seven, two of whom were civilians and the rest, soldiers.
Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip began on 7 July with the purpose of stopping “Hamas rocket fire at Israel”, but escalated last Thursday when Israel decided to launch a ground offensive. Israel’s stated aim of the ground operations is to “destroy Hamas’ underground tunnels,” which Israel says are made “for kidnapping and murdering Israelis”. The IDF claimed it has found 10 openings to tunnels in Al-Shuja’iah.
Egypt’s foreign ministry condemned the “latest escalation in military operations in Gaza” and the “dozens of martyrs” and hundreds of injured it has left behind in Al-Shuja’iah. Egypt renewed the Egyptian people’s and government’s support of the Palestinian people, during this “critical stage”.
Fighting for two weeks has rendered conditions in the strip increasingly calamitous. As of Saturday evening a total of 60,000 displaced Palestinians had sought shelter in 49 UNRWA schools, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its latest report on the emergency. Another 11,000 have been displaced and are hosted by family or neighbours. The report added that displacement is expected to continue to rise.
Ground operations and shelling have “extensively damaged” the strip’s electricity infrastructure. The OCHA report stated that 80% of Gaza’s population receives electricity only four hours a day. Additionally, water supply has been cut or severely disrupted for 900,000 people or half of Gaza’s 1.8 million people.
The fighting has severely affected children, with at least 72,000 children in Gaza in need of direct and specialised psychosocial support after their families experienced death, injury or loss of home, the report said.
Hundreds of homes have been “directly targeted by Israeli airstrikes, causing a large number of civilian casualties,” the OCHA report said. The IDF has defended the targeting of homes by saying that Hamas uses houses as “command centres”. The report cites human rights organisations as reporting incidents in which civilians were directly hit by Israeli airstrikes, “in circumstances where there was allegedly no rocket fire or armed group activity in the close vicinity”.
The report also addressed the “indiscriminate” rocket fire by armed Palestinian groups into Israel, most of which land in open areas.
Israel announced that it is building a field hospital for Palestinians at the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing, which will open on Sunday night. At least 18 health facilities have been damaged since the start of the Israeli operation and are in need of repair, including 3 hospitals and 12 clinics.