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Hamas says more than 5,000 killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza

RAFAH, Palestinian Territories, October 24 ------ Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry said that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the besieged Palestinian enclave since Israel launched its withering bombing campaign more than two weeks ago.

Alarm has surged about the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza amid the war sparked by the October 7 Hamas attack that, Israeli officials say, killed more than 1,400 people who were gunned down, stabbed or burnt by the Islamist militants. Hamas also took more than 200 hostages. On a day when Israel's army reported more than 300 new strikes within 24 hours, Gaza's health ministry said the death toll had surged above 5,000, more than 2,000 of them children, in figures AFP has not been able to independently verify. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed and more than one million people displaced in the territory that has been under siege and largely deprived of water, food and other basic supplies. About a dozen trucks carrying desperately needed aid the third convoy in three days arrived inside Gaza from Egypt on Monday through Rafah, Gaza's only crossing not controlled by Israel.

The United States, which has brokered the entry of the aid convoys, has vowed a "continued flow" of relief goods into Gaza, even as UN aid agencies have said far more is needed. Fighting raged unabated overnight, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed again that Israel would "erase Hamas" and as a full-scale ground invasion loomed. Gaza's Hamas-controlled government media office said that "more than 60 were martyred in the raids" during the night including 17 in a single strike that hit a house in Gaza's north and at least 10 others were killed in new strikes early Monday.

The Israeli military said it had hit "over 320 military targets in the Gaza Strip" in the past 24 hours. It said the targets "included tunnels containing Hamas terrorists, dozens of operational command centres" as well as "military compounds and observation posts" used by Islamic Jihad, another militant group.

Call for blood donations

Rafah resident Mohammed Abu Sabalah said he had returned home from the local mosque after dawn prayers Monday and that "a quarter of an hour later there was a bombing". "We couldn't see anything because of the thick smoke," he said, adding that "we thank God that we've emerged safe and sound" with "only a few windows and doors destroyed". Israeli forces are massed near the Gaza border, and smaller units have already carried out limited incursions, targeting Hamas and hoping to rescue hostages, whose number Israel now puts at 222. In one such operation, a 19-year-old Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded, the army said, adding that the tank operation had aimed "to dismantle terror infrastructure... and locate missing persons and bodies".

Tensions have been inflamed in the occupied West Bank, where 95 Palestinians have been killed in clashes involving Israeli security forces or settlers since fighting began in Gaza, according to the Ramallah-based health ministry. Israel kept evacuating southern communities near Gaza. Orit Cohen, 29, a native of Sderot, an Israeli town just near Gaza's northern border, told AFP: "I came to pick up my mother who until then refused to leave the city. But the army is bombing right on the other side. "I was afraid for her and I came to get her out of here." In Gaza, where thousands have been wounded, the health ministry issued a statement saying "citizens are called upon to immediately go to hospitals and blood bank branches to donate blood". Alarm has grown about the dire needs of the 2.4 million civilians trapped inside the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long coastal strip that was already blockaded and impoverished before the war. Children killed in an Israeli air strike in the southern city of Khan Yunis were Monday laid to rest in a makeshift grave, while in Rafah men were filling plastic jerrycans from containers with now scare safe drinking water.

US President Joe Biden brokered the passage of aid convoys with Egyptian and Israeli leaders in talks last week -- but the United Nations estimates Gaza needs about 100 trucks of relief goods every day. UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Sunday's delivery of food, water and medical supplies was "another small glimmer of hope for the millions of people in dire need of humanitarian aid. "But they need more, much more." Israel has rejected the entry of fuel into Gaza, fearing Hamas could use it for weapons and explosives. This has sparked warnings that soon Gaza's ambulances, hospital incubators for infants and water desalination plants will soon stop functioning.

Hezbollah warning

Around the world, Israel's friends and foes alike have warned against the Gaza war spilling over into a full-scale regional conflagration. Israel's arch enemy Iran has repeatedly warned of an escalation, as have its allied armed groups, including Lebanon's Hezbollah, which has traded cross-border fire with Israel. Netanyahu warned on Sunday that if Hezbollah were to get more deeply involved, it would be "the mistake of its life". "We will strike it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the significance for it and the state of Lebanon will be devastating," he said. Israeli air strikes have been reported against two airports in Syria, a mosque it said were used by "terror operatives" in the West Bank city of Jenin, and Hezbollah "military infrastructure" inside Lebanon. Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria's government are all backed by Iran, which opposes Israel's existence and has warned the region could spiral "out of control".

Washington said it would not hesitate to act in the event of any "escalation", just hours after the Pentagon moved to step up military readiness in the region. "If any group or any country is looking to widen this conflict and take advantage of this very unfortunate situation that we see, our advice is: don't," US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on ABC News. Netanyahu on Monday hosted Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the latest Western leader to pay a solidarity visit, and told him that "we have to unite, all together, against Hamas, which is ISIS", a reference to the Islamic State jihadist group. Palestinian prime minister Muhammad Shtayyeh charged that Israel's planned Gaza invasion would mean "new crimes, atrocities, forced displacement and killing for the sake of killing and revenge".



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