Israel denies it intends to push Palestinians over the Gaza border into Egypt

UN World Food Programme says half of the population in Gaza is starving, as health ministry says more than 18,000 killed since October 7th

Israel on Monday denied it intended to push Palestinians seeking refuge from its bombardment of Gaza over the border into Egypt as international relief agencies said hunger was spreading among the besieged enclave’s civilian population.

Amid the worsening humanitarian crisis, Hamas fighters and Israeli troops fought across the territory, with the militants trying to block Israeli tanks from advancing through the shattered streets.

The Gaza health ministry said 18,205 people had now been killed and 49,645 wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza in just over two months of warfare – hundreds of them since the United States vetoed a proposal for a ceasefire at the United Nations Security Council on Friday.

Most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes and residents say it is impossible to find refuge or food in the densely populated coastal enclave.


One Palestinian said he had not eaten for three days and had to beg for bread for his children.

“I pretend to be strong but I am afraid I will collapse in front of them at any moment,” he said by telephone, declining to be named for fear of reprisals.

UNRWA, the UN body responsible for Palestinian refugees, said some people were arriving at its health centres and shelters carrying their dead children.

“We are on the verge of collapse,” it said on X, formerly Twitter.

Aid agencies have also warned of a breakdown in social order as the situation worsens.

Over the weekend UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said he feared a mass displacement into Egypt, and UNRWA commissioner general Philippe Lazzarini said that pushing Gazans closer to the border pointed to attempts to move them over it.

Jordan also accused Israel of seeking “to empty Gaza of its people”.

The Israeli government on Monday denied this was its aim. Spokesperson Eylon Levy called the accusation “outrageous and false”.

Mr Levy said his country was defending itself from the “monsters” who had attacked Israel in a cross-border attack on October 7th.

In that raid, the deadliest in Israel’s history, Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages, according to Israeli tallies. About 100 have since been freed.

The Hamas attack triggered an Israeli retaliatory assault and brought the bloodiest period of warfare of the decades-long Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The border with Egypt is the only way out of Gaza at present, but Cairo has warned it will not allow Gazans into its territory, fearing they would not be able to return.

UN officials say 1.9 million people – 85 per cent of Gaza’s population – are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.

Gazans said people forced to flee repeatedly were dying of hunger and cold as well as the bombardments, describing looting of aid trucks and sky-high prices. The UN World Food Programme has said half of the population is starving.

Israel says its instructions to people to move areas are among measures to protect the population.

UN Security Council envoys spoke of unimaginable suffering and urged an end to the war when they visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing on Monday.

Asked by reporters if he had a message to nations that opposed a ceasefire in Gaza, China’s United Nations envoy Zhang Jun said simply: “Enough is enough.”

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday Israel had no intention of staying permanently in the Gaza Strip and it was open to discussing alternatives about who would control the territory, as long as it was not a group hostile to Israel.

“Israel will take any measures in order to destroy Hamas, but we have no intention to stay permanently in the Gaza Strip. We only take care of our security and the security of our citizens alongside the border with Gaza,” Mr Gallant told reporters.

Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is sworn to the Jewish state’s destruction.

Israel accuses Hamas of using civilians as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid, which Hamas denies. Israel has prevented most aid from moving into Gaza, saying it fears it will just fuel Hamas attacks.

Mr Levy said Israel was working to open the Kerem Shalom crossing which processed most aid before the war. He blamed international agencies for holdups at the crossing from Egypt.

After the collapse of a week-long ceasefire on December 1st, Israel began a ground offensive in the south and has since pushed from the east into the heart of Khan Younis city, with warplanes attacking an area to the west.

On Monday, militants and residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving farther west and clashing with Israeli forces in northern Gaza, where Israel had said its mission was largely complete.

Israel said dozens of Hamas fighters had surrendered and urged others to join them. The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired rockets towards Tel Aviv, where Israelis fled to shelters.

The Gaza health ministry said 32 Palestinians were killed in Khan Younis overnight. Hamas said its fighters had hit two Israeli tanks with rockets and fired mortars at Israeli forces.

Militants and residents said fighting was also fierce in Shejaia, east of the centre of Gaza City, the northwestern Sheikh Radwan district and Jabalia farther north.

In central Gaza, where Israel told people to move on Monday towards shelters in the Deir al-Balah area, health officials said the Shuhada Al-Aqsa hospital had received 40 dead.

Medics also said an Israeli air strike killed four in a house in Rafah, one of two places near Egypt where Israel says Palestinians should take refuge.

In another flashpoint area, an Israeli shell on Monday killed the mayor of the Lebanese village of Taybeh a few kilometres from the border with Israel, a relative and Lebanon’s National News Agency said.

Hostilities between Israel and Lebanon’s Hizbullah have been reignited by the war in Gaza, raising international concern that a wider conflict could get out of hand.

Mr Gallant said Israel was open to possibly reaching an agreement with the Iran-backed Hizbollah, on condition it included a safe zone along the border and proper guarantees.

– Reuters