Gaza City, rocked by a series of massive explosions on Sunday evening, witnessed a disruption in communications, while simultaneously, violence flared along Israel’s northern boundary with Lebanon.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) hinted at a forthcoming substantial incursion into Gaza City, potentially within the next 48 hours, as reported by various Israeli media outlets.
Within Gaza, reporters stationed both inside and along the Israeli border reported extensive Israeli airstrikes targeting the coastal enclave. Striking visuals captured towering explosions illuminating the night sky. Reports indicated that these strikes originated from land, sea, and air, including locations in the northern region of the strip where Israeli military forces have established a presence.
In northern Israel, bordering communities, notably Kiryat Shmona, found themselves under mortar and rocket fire from Hezbollah after an Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon led to the tragic loss of three girls aged between eight and 14, along with their grandmother. A Hezbollah representative referred to this attack as a “perilous development” for which Israel would pay a price, prompting Israeli residents to take shelter in secure rooms and the closure of the primary northbound route due to the risks.
Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-controlled health ministry accused Israeli aircraft of targeting the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza. The attack resulted in the tragic loss of at least 47 lives and left numerous others injured.
Simultaneously, the surge in hostilities on these two fronts unfolded alongside heightened diplomatic endeavors by the United States aimed at securing a temporary ceasefire. This is not only to address the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza but also to secure the release of hostages. These developments have sparked concerns over the potential for a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, held a meeting with Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, prior to his departure for Cyprus and Turkey, following consultations with Arab leaders on Saturday. During this meeting, Blinken underscored the importance of the Palestinian Authority playing a central role in shaping Gaza’s future. He traversed Israeli checkpoints to reach Ramallah in the West Bank, marking his second visit to the region since the onset of the conflict on October 7, which resulted in the tragic loss of 1,400 lives.
A spokesperson for President Abbas articulated that he had called for an immediate ceasefire, the expedited delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, and emphasized that the Palestinian Authority would only resume governance in Gaza as part of a comprehensive political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This shift in US policy, relayed by a senior State Department official, elucidates the role envisaged for the Palestinian Authority, which has had no governance presence in Gaza since 2007 when Hamas assumed control of the territory.
In contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s long-standing stance that any ceasefire, even a temporary one, was contingent on Hamas releasing its Gaza-held hostages. He stated, “There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages, and this condition should be unequivocally upheld.”
Secretary Blinken has suggested that humanitarian pauses may prove pivotal for safeguarding civilians, facilitating humanitarian aid delivery, and the evacuation of foreign nationals. However, he has remained opposed to a comprehensive ceasefire, expressing concerns that it would only allow Hamas to regroup and potentially replicate the actions observed on October 7.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, and evacuations of civilians and heavily wounded Palestinians have ceased since Saturday, following an Israeli strike on ambulances near the entrance to Gaza City’s Dar al-Shifa hospital. Israel subsequently alleged that Hamas had misused an ambulance for militant purposes.
In a conflict that has been marked by the attempts of both Israel and Hamas to promote their distinct narratives, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) arranged for a select group of foreign and Israeli journalists to enter Gaza for a brief period over the weekend. These journalists were subjected to stringent Israeli military restrictions while producing their reports.
It’s worth noting that, unlike the 2014 Gaza conflict, where international media outlets had relatively unrestricted access to the coastal strip, reporters have been denied entry from Israel or Egypt. Additionally, several Palestinian journalists operating within Gaza have tragically lost their lives during Israeli offensives.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has reported that more media personnel have been killed in the Israel-Hamas conflict than in any other regional conflict since their monitoring began in 1992. As of last Friday, 36 media workers – comprising 31 Palestinians, four Israelis, and one Lebanese individual – had lost their lives since Hamas initiated attacks on Israel on October 7.
The soaring death toll in Gaza has stirred growing international outrage, prompting tens of thousands to gather in cities worldwide, from Washington to Berlin, to demand an immediate cessation of hostilities.
Israel has repeatedly dismissed the idea of pausing its military operations, even for brief humanitarian breaks, as proposed by Secretary Blinken during his regional tour. Instead, it contends that Hamas is confronting the full might of its armed forces, underlining the risks faced by anyone residing in Gaza City. Israel’s Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, emphasized this stance, categorically asserting that “anyone in Gaza City is risking their life.”
As the international community, the United States, Israel, and Hamas grapple with articulating the ‘day after’ scenario, particularly if Israel succeeds in toppling Hamas, Blinken’s remarks serve as the clearest indication of US policy to date. The situation in Gaza remains fraught, and the stakes are undeniably high, as the world watches with bated breath.”