Israeli Troops Encircle Gaza City as Global Criticism of Strikes Mounts – US 247 News

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As the Israeli military announced that ground troops had encircled Gaza City on Thursday, criticism mounted of the death toll inflicted by Israeli airstrikes, with one United Nations agency suggesting the bombing campaign could be a war crime.

White House officials said Thursday that the Biden administration would urge Israel to periodically “pause” its military campaign on humanitarian grounds, as images circulated around the globe of the northern Gaza neighborhood where powerful Israeli munitions this week had leveled multiple buildings.

Grief-stricken family members and neighbors frantically pulled away tangled piles of reinforced concrete in the neighborhood, called Jabaliya, as others carried lifeless bodies from the crater where the dwellings once stood. The Gazan health ministry, which is run by Hamas, said Thursday that more than 1,000 people were injured, killed or missing after the strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday in the neighborhood. The figure could not immediately be independently verified.

“We have serious concerns that these are disproportionate attacks that could amount to war crimes,” the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a message on the social media platform X.

Top Israeli officials have said their forces are going out of their way to prevent civilian deaths, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also delivered an unapologetic defense of the aerial campaign.

On Thursday evening, he said that Israel’s ground forces were “already beyond the outskirts of Gaza City.”

“We are making progress,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote on social media. “Nothing will stop us.”

The Israeli military’s spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said on Thursday night that “Israeli soldiers have completed the encirclement of the city of Gaza, the center of the Hamas terror organization.”

The United Nations General Assembly, aid organizations and a large number of countries have urged a cease-fire, but the Biden administration has resisted making a similar call, instead pressing only for a humanitarian pause. American and Israeli officials have said a cease-fire would allow Hamas to regroup, and Admiral Hagari on Thursday added, “The concept of a cease-fire is not currently on the table at all.”

Israel said its airstrikes were targeting Hamas militants responsible for the Oct. 7 attacks that killed 1,400 Israelis. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has retreated into a network of tunnels that course through the sandy soils underneath Gaza neighborhoods. The Israeli military singled out Ibrahim Biari, a commander it described as a central figure in the Oct. 7 attacks, and said that he and “a large number of terrorists who were with him were killed” in one Jabaliya strike. A Hamas spokesman denied that any of its commanders had been in the area.

Like the prime minister, Israeli officials have defended their conduct of the war. On Thursday, a spokesman for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lior Haiat, accused Hamas of using Gazans as human shields. He said that “the entire responsibility lies on the terrorists of Hamas.”

“No other country in the world is making the same effort as Israel to prevent civilian casualties,” he said.

The Gazan interior ministry said that another strike on Thursday morning in the same neighborhood hit a school run by UNRWA, the United Nations agency that aids Palestinians, and that several people were injured.

Satellite images showed the scale of destruction of Tuesday’s airstrike in Jabaliya. All buildings in an approximate area of at least 2,500 square meters, or 27,000 square feet, were completely flattened, with more surrounding buildings heavily damaged.

UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children, on Wednesday called the scenes of the aftermath of the strikes “horrific and appalling.” Saying that an average of 400 children had been killed or injured each day over the past 25 days of Israel’s bombing campaign, the agency said: “This cannot become the new normal.”

As the airstrikes continued to pummel Gaza, thousands of people sought to escape the strip through its southern border with Egypt, where a few hundred people — including some critically injured people, aid workers and foreign nationals — were first allowed to cross on Wednesday. A few hundred more people made the crossing on Thursday, according to a spokesman for the Gaza side of the border.

The contrast between the destructive power of the Israeli military’s weapons and Gaza’s impoverished, densely populated society, where unemployment neared 50 percent before the war began and which Israel has besieged for three weeks, has been on full display this week.

“We barely eat, we barely drink, we barely live,” Nour AlSaqqa, a 23-year-old woman from Gaza City said in voice messages sent to The New York Times this week. She said she had fled south when Israel ordered Gazans to flee, but that she feared the lack of food and water could prove fatal.

“If the bombs didn’t kill us, our living situation will eventually,” she said.

Israeli officials said Thursday that the military was using artificial intelligence to help determine its targets in Gaza. And in a measure of its bombardment’s intensity, the military said it had identified 1,200 new targets in Gaza since the beginning of the war, in part using artificial intelligence.

Israel says it is targeting anti-tank missile launching positions and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities in Gaza. But those targets can be near or beneath apartment buildings, mosques and schools, Israeli officials have said.

Between 38,200 and 44,500 buildings throughout the Gaza Strip are estimated to have been damaged or destroyed since the beginning of the war, according to an analysis by two researchers, Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University and Corey Scher of CUNY Graduate Center.

The analysis includes damage from the beginning of the war until Sunday, before the strikes that hit the Jabaliya neighborhood on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

All told, Israeli strikes in Gaza have killed more than 9,000 people, according to Gazan health officials. At least a quarter of all buildings in northern Gaza, appear damaged or destroyed, according to satellite imagery.

The ground war, which Israel launched on Friday, has become increasingly intense. Israeli soldiers are fighting in the area of Gaza City in “face-to-face battles” with Hamas, the Israeli military said on Thursday.

“Our forces are already present in very significant areas within Gaza City,” said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israeli military chief of staff, in a televised statement on Thursday. He added that they were engaged in “face-to-face battles” and “inside important facilities belonging to Hamas, operating and destroying aboveground and underground facilities.”

Hamas’s armed wing did not directly confirm the claims of where Israeli forces had reached, but said Thursday morning on Telegram that it had fired on Israeli troops near the al-Shati area, on the northern flank of Gaza City, in addition to Johor al-Deek, an area close to Gaza’s eastern border.

At least 18 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the ground fighting, including Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, the most senior Israeli officer to die in Gaza since the start of the ground invasion. The military said he was killed in a battle in northern Gaza but did not offer additional details.

As ground troops entered Gaza City, the Israeli military revised upward the number of people believed to be held hostage by Hamas. At least 242 hostages were abducted in the Oct. 7 Hamas raid, according to Admiral Hagari, the Israeli military’s spokesman. The Israeli military has also formally notified the families of 335 soldiers killed in the fighting since the war began, he said, most of them killed during the Hamas incursion into Israel.

U.N. officials said this week that the humanitarian crisis in Gaza was becoming more acute. In remarks to the United Nations on Monday, Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, said his agency was itself running out of fuel, water, food and medicine, and “will soon be unable to operate.”

But Israel’s agency overseeing policy for the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, maintained in a statement on Tuesday that there is “currently no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.” The statement said the Israeli government was monitoring the supply of water, food, fuel and energy in Gaza and asserted that “the situation is far from crisis.”

Gaza residents lucky enough to have foreign passports pressed up against the window on Thursday where the list of those allowed to cross into Egypt had been posted. Most of the more than 2 million residents of Gaza without foreign citizenship have no option but to stay in the war-shattered territory.

Reporting was contributed by Emma Bubola, Ameera Harouda, Vivian Yee, Victoria Kim, Hiba Yazbek, Richard Pérez-Peña, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Christoph Koettl, Iyad Abuheweila, Anna Betts, Michael D. Shear, Karen Zraick and Chevaz Clarke.