Israel pounds Gaza as UN urges opening of land crossings for aid deliveries

Israeli army launches attacks across Gaza, including in Jabalia camp in the north, as humanitarian crisis deepens.

Smoke rises above northern Gaza during Israel's ongoing assault on the besieged enclave [Shannon Stapleton/Reuters]

Israeli forces have continued to bombard the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, where Israel’s military offensive is deepening a humanitarian crisis in the already ravaged part of the Palestinian enclave.

Hamas said on Friday that its fighters were battling invading Israeli troops in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia – the Gaza Strip’s largest refugee camp – in some of the fiercest confrontations since soldiers returned to the area a week ago.

Israeli forces have stepped up their attacks on northern Gaza in recent days, displacing more than 100,000 people, according to United Nations figures.

Residents said Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles had moved deep into the heart of Jabalia while bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops.

Reporting from Deir el-Balah in central Gaza, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud said the Palestinian Civil Defence said at least 93 bodies were recovered within 24 hours from the “streets and the alleyways” of Jabalia.

“They are saying there are still more bodies in areas that they are unable to reach,” Mahmoud said.

Meanwhile, fighting between Palestinian armed groups and the Israeli military was also reported in other parts of the coastal territory.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the al-Quds Brigades, said on Friday that their fighters shelled an Israeli “command post” in the south part of Gaza City.

The spokesman for the Qassam Brigades, Abu Obaida, also said in a rare statement that Hamas fighters had targeted 100 Israeli army vehicles across all “fighting fronts” over the past 10 days and had inflicted casualties.

Lack of humanitarian supplies

Israel’s intensifying bombardment of Gaza comes as the United Nations and human rights advocates continue to call for a lasting ceasefire to end the war, which has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians since early October. The war began after Hamas carried out attacks in southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,139 people.

Gaza faces dire shortages of food, water, medicine and other critical supplies because Israel has impeded aid deliveries.

This month, the Israeli army seized and shut down the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt – a vital entry point for aid in southern Gaza.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee the city of Rafah as Israeli forces have launched intense air and ground attacks in recent days.

On Friday, the US military announced that the first trucks began making deliveries to Gaza of aid arriving at a temporary pier set up by the country off the coast of Gaza.

The US military’s Central Command said “trucks carrying humanitarian assistance began moving ashore” via the pier a day after it was anchored to a Gaza beach.

“This is an ongoing, multinational effort to deliver additional aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza via a maritime corridor that is entirely humanitarian in nature,” it said.

The aid is being transported from Cyprus, the European Union’s easternmost member, about 360km (225 miles) from Gaza. The first shipment included 88,000 cans of food from Romania, the 27-member bloc said.

Pier ‘not a replacement’

But the UN and other observers have said the pier is not a solution. Instead, they have urged Israel to allow aid into Gaza through land crossings.

Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said on Friday that the UN had agreed to help receive aid and arrange for its dispatch to Gaza from the floating pier “as long as … the neutrality and independence of humanitarian operations” are respected.

But Haq said aid deliveries by land remain the most effective way to combat the humanitarian crisis impacting 2.3 million people in Gaza.

“Given the immense needs in Gaza, the floating dock is intended to supplement existing land crossings of aid into Gaza, including Rafah, Kerem Shalom [Karem Abu Salem] and Erez [Beit Hanoon]. It is not meant to replace any crossings,” Haq said.

That was echoed by White House national security spokesperson John Kirby, who told Al Jazeera on Friday that the pier “is an additive, not an alternative, to ground crossings”.

“It is not a replacement,” said Kirby, who added that the US is hoping to increase the amount of aid getting into Gaza in the next “72 hours or so”.

Still, Kirby said the pier itself “will not be enough all on its own to get the food, water and medicine that the Palestinians living in Gaza so desperately need”. “We have to get those land crossings open as soon as possible,” Kirby said.

Israel says captives’ bodies retrieved

Meanwhile, the Israeli army said on Friday that it had retrieved the bodies of three captives from the Gaza Strip.

Military spokesperson Daniel Hagari identified the three as Shani Louk, Amit Buskila and Yitzhak Gelernter, who he said “were murdered by Hamas while escaping the Nova music festival on October 7 and their bodies were taken into Gaza”.

Hagari did not say where the bodies were found.

The Israeli government had confirmed the death of German-Israeli Louk, a 23-year-old tattoo artist, in late October. But the family of 57-year-old Gelernter was “in total darkness” about his fate until Friday, his daughter, Yarden Pivko, told Channel 12 News.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the military operation in a statement on Friday and reiterated a pledge to return all the captives, “the living and the deceased alike”.

In response to the announcement, the Qassam Brigades said it was “sceptical” of Israel’s claim. It added that the only way for the remaining captives to return alive was through a truce.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies