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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israel starts new attack in central Gaza; dozens reported dead



Israeli soldiers take journalists on an escorted tour near a destroyed U.N.-run school in the central Gaza Strip on Feb. 8, 2024. Dozens of people have been killed, according to health workers on Wednesday, as Israel launched a new operation in central Gaza, hitting the region with air and artillery strikes and sending in ground troops that have engaged in clashes with Hamas militants. (Sergey Ponomarev/The New York Times)

By Erika Solomon, Iyad Abuheweila and Abu Bakr Bashir


Israel said on Wednesday that it had launched a new operation in central Gaza over the past day, hitting the region with air and artillery strikes and sending in ground troops that have engaged in clashes with Hamas militants. Dozens of people have been killed, according to health workers in the Gaza Strip, who warned that the only remaining hospital in the area was inundated with wounded people.


In the past 24 hours, the Gaza health ministry said it had recorded 36 dead and 115 injured without saying how many were combatants. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders said at least 70 bodies, most of them women and children, had been brought to the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital since Tuesday. The Israeli military declined to comment on the reports.


“The odor of blood in the hospital’s emergency room this morning was unbearable,” Karin Huster, a medical adviser for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, said in a statement. “There are people lying everywhere, on the floor, outside.”


“The bodies were being brought in plastic bags,” she said. “The situation is overwhelming.”


Israel’s military said it was conducting military operations “above and below ground” against Hamas militants in Bureij and the eastern part of Deir al-Balah, both in central Gaza, and that it had “eliminated” several.


On its Telegram channel, Hamas also reported clashes with Israeli forces in the area, and said on Wednesday that it had fired missiles at Israeli troops in the east of Bureij. The number of people in central Gaza, particularly in Deir al-Balah, had swelled as hundreds of thousand of Gaza residents escaped fighting in the southern city of Rafah, once the main hub for people sheltering from the war.


A spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry warned that the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, located in Deir al-Balah, was now the only functioning hospital in the region, and was at three times its normal capacity. Health authorities in central Gaza estimate that the hospital, where the injured are being taken, is now handling services for 1 million people.


Some people have died of their injuries while waiting outside operating rooms for their turn to be treated, said the spokesperson, Khalil al-Daghran, who is also a doctor at the hospital.


“We can no longer receive new wounded,” he said. “There is tremendous pressure on medical teams, who cannot control the current situation.”


Residents in Bureij reported heavy artillery strikes since Tuesday night and said that they were unsure where to go next, with fighting erupting around the Gaza Strip.


Hani Ahmed, a teacher and father of five who lives near the center of Bureij, said two buildings in his area had been struck. Despite this, he was hesitant to uproot his family again.


“There is no place to flee to now. Khan Younis is rubble, Rafah is under attack, the north is destroyed,” Ahmad said. “I might take my family in my small bus and live at the beach as I have no tent. We are terrified.”


Adham al-Daya, a videographer based in central Gaza who reports for pan-Arab and Palestinian media outlets, said Israeli strikes had also hit several high rise buildings in the nearby Maghazi area. While visiting one of the areas hit, he said he saw body parts scattered everywhere amid the rubble.


“The shelling, drone shooting and successive airstrikes are nonstop,” he said in a phone interview, during which several explosions could be heard.


Residents were loading the wounded on horse and donkey carts to get them to ambulances that could drive people to the hospital, he said. But some ambulance drivers, unable to coordinate with Israeli forces in advance, were being forced to turn back as they came under gunfire from Israeli drones.


There are still dead bodies in their homes, he said, “and no one can reach them.”

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