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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Death toll climbs in Gaza as Israel intensifies airstrikes

Flowers are left on the graves of Sgt. Yam Goldstein and her father, Nadav, during their funeral in Shefayim, a kibbutz in central Israel, on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.

By Nadav Gavrielov

The Israeli military said Tuesday that it had stepped up its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian officials said that hundreds of people had been killed, adding to the devastating toll as Israel faces pressure to delay a ground invasion in response to the Oct. 7 assault by Hamas.

Israel said it had struck more than 400 targets in the past 24 hours — on top of more than 320 a day earlier — in some of the most intense aerial attacks on Gaza in recent days. The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said that it had recorded the highest single-day death toll of the war: at least 704 people killed in dozens of strikes on homes, a refugee camp and other places. It was not possible to independently verify the toll.

The intense strikes came as U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said at a meeting of the Security Council that the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas — which he described as “appalling” — cannot justify “the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

The attacks by Hamas, which Israeli officials said killed more than 1,400 people and led to the abduction of more than 200 others, “did not happen in a vacuum,” Guterres said, adding that Palestinians had been subjected to 56 years of “suffocating occupation.”

His comments prompted fierce backlash from Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Gilad Erdan, who called on Guterres to resign in a post on social media.

Israeli military officials say they are well prepared for a ground assault in Gaza, but it remains unclear when and if such an invasion will occur. U.S. officials have said Israel’s military is not yet ready with a plan for a successful invasion, and have also urged Israel to give more time for hostage negotiations and aid deliveries.

During the delays, Israel has intensified its bombardment from the air. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said more than 5,700 people, nearly half of them children, had been killed since Israel began its response to the Oct. 7 attack.

Here is what else to know:

— One of the two Hamas hostages released Monday, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, told reporters in Tel Aviv, Israel, that she had “gone through hell.” The other released hostage was identified by Israel as Nurit Cooper, 79. Last week, Hamas set free an Israeli American mother and her daughter, but it and other groups are believed to still be holding about 220 people captured during the Oct. 7 raid.

— Six hospitals across the Gaza Strip have had to shut down because they are out of fuel, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. While some aid convoys have made it into Gaza, humanitarian groups have called for fuel to be added to the food, water and medicine being sent in. But Israel has balked at deliveries of fuel because it says Hamas could use it for military purposes.

— Secretary of State Antony Blinken also addressed the U.N. Security Council, calling for humanitarian pauses to allow aid to reach Gaza and civilians to evacuate. He also urged council members to use their influence to prevent Iran from spreading the war to additional fronts in the region, given its support of Hamas, Hezbollah and other militia groups. Blinken confirmed in his address to the Security Council that least 33 Americans were among the 1,400 people killed in the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.

— President Emmanuel Macron of France visited Israel to continue the diplomatic push to free hostages, deliver more aid to Gazan civilians and prevent the conflict from spreading. Macron also expressed solidarity with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, adding that the fight against terrorism “must be merciless, but not without rules.”

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