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GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 24 (Reuters) – The Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday that Israeli air strikes had killed more than 700 Palestinians in Hamas-run Gaza overnight, and ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said it was the highest 24-hour death toll in Israel’s two-week-old siege of the narrow strip.
United Nations agencies pleaded “on our knees” on Tuesday for emergency aid to be allowed unimpeded into Gaza, saying more than 20 times current deliveries were needed to support the Palestinian population after the two weeks of bombardment.
In a statement released on social media, the Palestinian health ministry said at least 5,791 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli bombardments since Oct. 7, including 2,360 children. Some 704 were killed in the previous 24 hours alone, it said.
Reuters could not independently verify the ministry figures.
The Israeli military said that it killed dozens of Hamas fighters overnight while hitting over 400 Hamas targets, but that it would take time to destroy the Islamist militant group whose deadly cross-border attack on Oct. 7 shocked Israel.
With international aid agencies warning of a humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the tiny, impoverished territory, one of the world’s most densely populated places, French President Emmanuel Macron flew to Israel.
Macron told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that France stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel in its war with Hamas but that it must not fight “without rules”. Netanyahu said Israel would try to protect civilians as it worked to ensure they “will no longer live under Hamas tyranny”.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded on Tuesday for civilians to be protected, voicing concern about “clear violations of international humanitarian law” in Gaza.
The World Health Organization, in the latest of increasingly desperate U.N. appeals, called for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire” to allow safe deliveries of food, medicines and fuel.
But there appeared to be little prospect of a ceasefire any time soon in the bloodiest chapter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades, with civilian suffering spreading.
Doctors in Gaza say patients arriving at hospitals are showing signs of disease caused by overcrowding and poor sanitation after more than 1.4 million people fled their homes for temporary shelters under Israel’s heaviest-ever bombardment.
HOSPITALS RUNNING OUT OF FUEL
All hospitals say they are running out of fuel to power their electricity generators, leaving them increasingly unable to treat the injured and ill. More than 40 medical centres have halted operations, a health ministry spokesman said.
The Israeli military reaffirmed it would not permit the entry of fuel to prevent Hamas from using it.
The United Nations said 20 trucks that had been due to deliver aid to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt on Tuesday had not entered the enclave. No reason was given, but the U.N. said it hoped the convoy would get into Gaza on Wednesday.
After an air strike in Khan Younis in south Gaza, Abdallah Tabash held his dead daughter Sidra, refusing to let go as he held her bloodstained face and hair. “I want to look at her as much as I can,” he said.
Israeli tanks and troops are massed on the border between Israel and Gaza awaiting orders for an expected ground invasion. It is an operation that may be complicated by fears for the hostages’ welfare and by militants heavily armed by Iran dug into a crowded urban setting using a vast network of tunnels.
The bombardments were unleashed in response to a shock cross-border Hamas assault into southern Israel in which gunmen killed over 1,400 people – mostly civilians – in a single day.
‘I’VE BEEN THROUGH HELL’
Hamas on Monday freed two Israeli women who were among the more than 200 hostages taken during the rampage – the third and fourth to be released.
One of those freed, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, said she was beaten by militants as she was abducted and had difficulty breathing. “They stormed into our homes. They beat people. They kidnapped others, the old and the young without distinction,” she said, seated in a wheelchair and speaking in barely a whisper to reporters outside a Tel Aviv hospital.
“I’ve been through hell,” Lifshitz said.
Inside Gaza, a group of hostages were led into what Lifshitz called a “spider’s web” of damp tunnels and eventually reached a large hall where, under 24-hour guard, a doctor visited every other day and brought them medicines they needed.
“They treated us gently and met all our needs,” she said.
Qatari mediators are urging Hamas to quicken the pace of hostage releases to include more women and children and to do so without expecting Israeli concessions, according to three diplomats and a source in the region.
WORLD POWERS CONCERNED CONFLICT MAY SPREAD
How soon Israel might launch a full-scale invasion of Gaza remains unclear. The Middle East’s most powerful military faces a group that has developed a powerful arsenal with Iran’s help.
World powers are concerned the conflict could ignite the entire Middle East and some have urged Israel to exercise restraint, while affirming its right to self-defence.
Deadly clashes have escalated between the Israeli military and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, and resurged between Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed, heavily armed Hezbollah group along the two countries’ tinderbox border.
Fears of regional escalation focus on Iran’s network of proxies in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Any wider conflagration would jeopardise security in a region key to global energy supplies.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday Washington does not seek conflict with Iran, but warned it would act swiftly and decisively if Tehran or its proxies attacks U.S. personnel anywhere.
U.S. officials told Reuters the U.S. military is taking new steps to protect its troops in the Middle East as concerns mount about attacks by Iran-backed groups, and it is leaving open the possibility of evacuations of military families if needed.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Steve Holland, Rami Ayyub and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Dan Williams and Emily Rose in Jerusalem; Moaz Abd-Alaziz in Cairo; Writing by Michael Perry and Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich; editing by Miral Fahmy, Toby Chopra, Philippa Fletcher and Howard Goller
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.