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Sat. May 25th, 2024

Israeli strikes hit Gaza on Wednesday as Muslims marked the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan and after US President Joe Biden labelled Israel’s approach to the war a “mistake”.

Palestinians gathered for morning prayers on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday amid the ruins of Gaza, which has been devastated by more than six months of war since Hamas’s October 7 attacks.

Tens of thousands also flocked to Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound where one worshipper, nurse Rawan Abd, said: “It’s the saddest Eid ever… you could see the sadness on people’s faces.

“Usually we come to Al-Aqsa to celebrate, this year we came just to support each other,” the 32-year-old said at Islam’s third holiest site, which is also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount.

Israeli forces kept up combat operations and air

strikes on Gaza a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed no let-up in the campaign to destroy Hamas and bring home the hostages.

Netanyahu insisted on that “no force in the world” would stop Israeli troops from entering Gaza’s far-southern city of Rafah which is packed with displaced Palestinians.

His threat came amid ongoing talks in Cairo involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators for a truce and hostage release deal.

Biden, voicing his growing frustration with hawkish Netanyahu, issued some of his sternest criticism yet of the war, which has brought mass civilian casualties and widespread suffering.

“I think what he’s doing is a mistake,” Biden told Spanish-language TV network Univision in an interview that aired Tuesday night after being recorded last week. “I don’t agree with his approach.”

He urged Netanyahu to “just call for a ceasefire, allow for the next six, eight weeks, total access to all food and medicine going into the country.”

‘Famine-like conditions’

The war broke out with Hamas’s October 7 attack against Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.

Palestinian militants also took about 250 hostages, 129 of whom remain in Gaza, including 34 the Israeli army says are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 33,360 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Another 14 people were killed — including small children — in a strike on a home in Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, the health ministry said.

The army said Wednesday that “Israeli troops are continuing to operate in the central Gaza Strip and killed a number of terrorists over the past day”.

It added that aircraft had “struck dozens of terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including military sites, launchers, tunnel shafts and infrastructure.”

Israel has imposed a siege that has deprived Gaza’s people of most food, water, fuel, medicines and other essential goods.

Humanitarian groups have accused Israel of using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza, where UN experts say half the population is facing “catastrophic” food insecurity.

Washington’s recent tougher line with Israel, its main ally in the region, has brought some results, according to the US Agency for International Development.

Recent days had seen a “sea change” in aid deliveries, said USAID administrator Samantha Power, with Israel reporting 468 trucks entering from Egypt on Tuesday.

However, Power stressed that Israel needs to do more, saying that “we have famine-like conditions in Gaza, and supermarkets filled with food within a few kilometres away” in southern Israel.

Washington has also resumed funding to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees after cutting it weeks ago after Israel claimed that some UNRWA staff took part in the October 7 attack.

‘It will be punished’

Hamas has said it is studying the latest proposal for a truce. A framework being circulated would halt fighting for six weeks and see the exchange of about 40 hostages for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

However, Hamas has so far also publicly insisted on a full withdrawal of Israeli ground forces and a permanent ceasefire — demands Israel has rejected outright. 

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that Israel had to “take some steps forward” while Hamas’s public statements had been “less than encouraging”.

The US State Department has however also warned Israel that “a full-scale military invasion of Rafah would have an enormously harmful effect” on civilians and “would ultimately hurt Israel’s security”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday he had no indication of an “imminent” assault on the city, where around 1.5 million Palestinians are sheltering.

Blinken also said he doubted Israel would attack Rafah before a delegation is set to visit Washington next week. 

Regional tensions have surged amid the Gaza war, and Israel was widely blamed for an April 1 strike on arch foe Iran’s consulate in Damascus that killed seven Revolutionary Guards.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Israel that “the evil regime made a mistake in this regard. It must be punished and will be punished.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz swiftly replied with a Persian-language post warning that “if Iran attacks from its territory, Israel will respond and attack Iran.”

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