4 patients die as oxygen runs out in Gaza hospital seized by Israeli forces, health officials say

4 patients die as oxygen runs out in Gaza hospital seized by Israeli forces, health officials say

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israel’s defense minister on Friday said Israel is “thoroughly planning” a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, signaling determination to move ahead despite growing international concerns about the safety of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians seeking refuge there.

U.S. President Joe Biden has urged Israel not to carry out the operation without a “credible” plan to protect civilians and to instead focus on a cease-fire, while Egypt has said an operation could threaten diplomatic relations between the countries. Many other world leaders have issued similar messages of concern.

An estimated 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half of Gaza’s population, have crammed into Rafah, most of them displaced by fighting elsewhere in the territory. Hundreds of thousands are living in sprawling tent camps.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel has inflicted heavy losses on Hamas during a war that is now in its fifth month and that Rafah is “the next Hamas center of gravity” Israel plans to target.

“We are thoroughly planning future operations in Rafah, which is a significant Hamas stronghold,” he said. He declined to say say when the operation might begin, though Israel has previously said it will first develop a plan to evacuate civilians.

Palestinians and international aid agencies say there is no safe place to go, with Israel also carrying out strikes in areas where it had told civilians to seek shelter, including Rafah.

The Israeli military launched its war in response to a cross-border Hamas attack on Oct. 7 that killed some 1,200 people in Israel and took 250 others hostage. The air and ground offensive has killed over 28,000 Palestinians, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave, caused widespread destruction, displaced some 80% of the population and sparked a humanitarian crisis.

Egypt has repeatedly warned Israel not to push Palestinian civilians in Rafah across the border, saying a mass influx could lead to the end of the 1 979 peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

While some Israeli hard-liners have called for the expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza, Gallant said there were no plans to do so.

“The state of Israel has no intention of evacuating Palestinian civilians to Egypt,” he said. “We respect and value our peace agreement with Egypt, which is a cornerstone of stability in the region as well as an important partner.”

New satellite photos, however, indicate that Egypt is preparing for that very scenario. The images show Egypt building a wall and leveling land near its border with Gaza. Egyptian officials did not respond to requests for comment.

The Israeli offensive has included months of airstrikes as well as a ground invasion that has steadily moved southward through most of Gaza.

In recent weeks, it has focused on Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city and a Hamas stronghold.

On Friday, Palestinian health officials in Khan Younis said that five patients in intensive care died after their oxygen ran out following a raid by Israeli troops in southern Gaza’s largest hospital.

The Israeli army has been searching the Nasser Hospital complex, arresting suspected Hamas militants and searching for evidence that the remains of Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas might be there. Israel says it does not target patients or doctors, but staff say the facility is struggling under heavy fire and dwindling supplies, including food and water.

Gallant said 70 suspected militants have been arrested at the hospital, including 20 who allegedly participated in the Oct. 7 attack.

Two Israeli airstrikes on Rafah overnight killed at least 13 people, including nine members of the same family, according to hospital officials.

Also on Friday, a Palestinian assailant opened fire at a bus stop on a busy intersection in southern Israel, killing two people and wounding four before being shot dead by a bystander. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

CEASE-FIRE STALLINGNegotiations over a cease-fire in Gaza, meanwhile, appear to have stalled, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday pushed back hard against the U.S. vision for after the war — particularly its calls for the creation of a Palestinian state.

After speaking overnight with Biden and reportedly meeting with visiting CIA chief William Burns, Netanyahu wrote on X that Israel will not accept “international dictates regarding a permanent settlement with the Palestinians.”

He said that if other countries unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, it would give a “reward to terrorism.”

Netanyahu has repeatedly rejected creation of a Palestinian state and even boasted about having been instrumental in preventing it during his time in office.

His governing coalition is dominated by hard-liners who oppose Palestinian independence and any diplomatic process would likely lead to the collapse of the government.

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until Hamas is destroyed and the more than 100 hostages who remain in captivity are freed.

Biden on Friday urged Netanyahu to put off a Rafah operation and instead pursue a cease-fire that could include the release of Israeli hostages.

“I’m still hopeful that that can be done and, in the meantime, I don’t anticipate, I’m hoping that, that the Israelis will not make any massive land invasion,” Biden said. “My hope and expectation is that we’ll get this hostage deal.”

UNRWA UNDER PRESSURE AGAINGallant released new Israeli allegations against the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, including a photo of what he said was a U.N. social worker participating in the kidnapping of an Israeli on Oct. 7.

Israel has long accused UNRWA of collaborating with Hamas or turning a blind eye to the militant group’s activities.

Throughout the war, it has released images of tunnels built next to UNRWA facilities and last month it claimed that 12 UNRWA employees had actively participated in the Oct. 7 massacre.

That prompted the United States and other donor countries to suspend funding to UNRWA, the main provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza. The agency says it will have to halt operations by the end of the month if funding isn’t restored.

UNRWA denies collaborating with Hamas. It already has dismissed the employees accused in the Oct. 7 attacks and launched a pair of investigations into its operations.

In his presentation to reporters, Gallant said Israeli intelligence has “significant indications” that more than 30 additional UNRWA workers joined the Oct. 7 attack.

He said nearly 1,500 workers, 12% of its work force, are members of Hamas or the Islamic Jihad militant group, and over 230 are in their armed wings.

“UNRWA has lost legitimacy and can no longer function as a U.N. body,” he said. He said he has ordered Israeli authorities to begin working with alternative organizations that could replace UNRWA.

UNRWA’s commissioner, Philippe Lazzarini, says he takes the allegations seriously but has also pointed out that the 12 workers identified by Israel are a tiny fraction of UNRWA’s overall work force. He has warned that a halt in operations could endanger the well-being of Gazans who depend on the agency.

The agency did not comment on Gallant’s latest accusations, but has said it regularly provides the names of its workers to Israel and takes action against anyone found to be violating U.N. rules of neutrality.

“These shocking allegations come as more than 2 million people in Gaza depend on lifesaving assistance that the agency has been providing since the war began,” Lazzarini said last month.  » …
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