Israeli forces pressed ahead with their operation to flush out Hamas operatives from the northern Gaza Strip on Monday as mediation efforts continued to clinch a deal for the release of some of the hostages held by the militant group.
Israeli officials expressed cautious optimism, describing the hours ahead as ”critical” as members of the Israeli war cabinet met with representatives of relatives of the hostages on Monday night.
One of the issues holding up a deal was reportedly the Hamas demand that Israeli drones stop flying over Gaza during the ceasefire period.
As Israel continued its military advance, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said the death toll in the enclave had reached 13,300.
The war began on October 7th when 1,200 Israelis, according to Israel’s government, were killed when some 3,000 gunmen stormed into southern Israel from Gaza. Most of those killed were civilians. Some 240 people were also taken hostage, including nine-year-old Irish-Israeli national Emily Hand, a resident of kibbutz Be’eri.
The director of the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza said 10 people were killed in an Israeli air strike on the premises on Monday. The Israeli military said troops opened fire after being targeted by militants inside the hospital grounds.
Meanwhile, 28 of the 31 premature babies evacuated from Gaza city’s al-Shifa hospital last week crossed into Egypt.
Live footage aired by Egypt’s Al Qahera TV showed medical staff carefully lifting infants from inside an ambulance and placing them in mobile incubators, which were then wheeled across a car park towards other ambulances.
The UN agency for Palestinian Refugees (Unrwa) said the number of displaced people throughout the coastal enclave had reached approximately 1.7 million.
Many will not have homes to return to as entire neighbourhoods have already been flattened. The damage is likely to increase as the Israeli Defence Forces seek to systematically destroy the vast Hamas underground tunnel network, which invariably leads to the collapse of buildings above ground.
The massive internal displacement from the north to the south is reminiscent of the scenes of the 1948 war when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes in an event known in Arabic as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
Aid groups are already struggling to cope with the flow of refugees into the southern Gaza Strip but the area around Khan Younis in the south is likely to mark the next target for Israel’s military advance. The IDF believe Hamas leaders and many gunmen fled south and many of the hostages are also being held there.
On Monday, dozens of Jordanian trucks with equipment to build a field hospital entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing. According to reports in Jordan, from the moment all the equipment has arrived, it will take 48 hours to build the temporary hospital in the Khan Younis area.
In Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, politicians from the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) insisted on discussing a Bill promoting the death penalty for terrorists. Families of hostages held by Hamas implored the government to postpone the discussion, fearing that it may put the lives of Israeli captives in danger.
Gil Dickmann, whose cousin was abducted to Gaza on October 7th, addressed national security minister Itamar Ben- Gvir, head of Otzma Yehudit: “I beg you not to capitalise on our suffering now,” he said. “Do not talk now about gallows, don’t talk about the death penalty now. Not now, not when the lives of our loved ones are in the balance. Not when there is a sword against their throat.”