Palestinians fleeing Gaza City toward the south walk on a road on November 8, 2023.
Thousands of Gazans on Wednesday again made use of a humanitarian corridor opened by Israel to leave the northern Gaza Strip as Israel pressed ahead with its offensive to oust the Hamas terror group.
“The northern Gaza Strip area is a fierce combat zone, and time is running out to evacuate it,” IDF Arabic language spokesman Avichay Adraee said on X, calling on Gazans to “join the hundreds of thousands” who have evacuated already.
The passageway was open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. An extension was later granted until 3 p.m. because of the “sizable response”, according to the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman Avichay Adraee.
The IDF published video footage showing the movement of civilians southward, many of whom could be seen carrying white flags and holding their hands in the air.
Crowd sizes appear to match those seen Tuesday, when an estimated 15,000 people moved south, compared to 5,000 on Monday and 2,000 on Sunday, said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The pace of Palestinian civilians fleeing the combat zone in northern Gaza has picked up as Israel’s air and ground campaign there intensifies, UN monitors said Wednesday.
The civilians are able to move during a four-hour window set daily by the Israeli military that assures safe passage from Gaza City and its surroundings toward the south of the Strip, where there are fewer airstrikes. Most of those fleeing are children, the elderly and people with disabilities, the UN agency said. Many arrived on foot with minimal belongings.
The densely populated northern area of Gaza, specifically Gaza City and neighborhoods, are the current focus of Israel’s campaign to crush Hamas.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians remain in the combat area, many sheltering at hospitals or UN schools. Some said they were deterred from moving south because of dire humanitarian conditions in the evacuation zone and ongoing Israeli airstrikes across Gaza, including the south.
Israel has accused Hamas of seeking to keep civilians in the northern part of Gaza to use them as human shields.
Hamas has accused the IDF of firing on or striking convoys of those evacuating, charges that Israel has strongly denied. The IDF instead has provided evidence that Hamas operatives are trying to prevent civilians from moving south, setting up roadblocks and purportedly even firing on convoys.
Fighting and airstrikes continued on Wednesday, and the Israel Defense Forces announced that Sgt. First Class Jonathan Chazor, a soldier in the Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit, was killed fighting Hamas terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip a day earlier.
Chazor, 22, was from the northern community of Katzir.
His death brought the toll of slain soldiers in Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza to 32, and 350 since October 7.
Also on Wednesday, Israel claimed to have killed one of the top figures in Hamas’s weapons production apparatus in an overnight airstrike.
The military and Shin Bet said that Muhsin Abu Zina was “one of the leaders of weapons production” for Hamas, specializing in manufacturing “strategic weapons and rockets,” and called him the head of the terror group’s “industries and weaponry” division.
The military said it has also killed several Hamas operatives in strikes on anti-tank and rocket launching positions.
The IDF also said troops have found and destroyed some 130 tunnel shafts in Gaza since the ground operation began last month. Troops of the Combat Engineering Forces have been working to clear routes for ground forces to maneuver, locate and destroy Hamas assets, including tunnels and rocket launchers.
The IDF said forces found a number of tunnel entrances next to a structure with car batteries, which are thought to be hooked up to the tunnel’s air filtration system.
Forces of the Nahal Infantry Brigade meanwhile captured a Hamas training camp in northern Gaza. A staging ground within the camp was also found, where Hamas operatives had prepared weapons and food to carry out an attack, the military said. Within the camp, several tunnel entrances were also found. They were all destroyed.
According to a Channel 13 report, an unnamed official said during a military briefing Wednesday that Israel will likely see “achievements” regarding the tunnels “in the coming days,” and that if troops need to, “they will enter them.”
“Hamas has descended into an advanced and fortified underground system and built a number of protective mechanisms. Some of the tunnels can be attacked from the air,” the official reportedly said. “The ground entry of the IDF exposes the enemy’s infrastructure and the engineering corps has begun with the destruction of shafts and tunnels.”
Meanwhile, international pressure has continued to mount regarding the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.
Hundreds of trucks carrying aid have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since Oct. 21. But humanitarian workers say the aid is far short of mounting needs.
Emily Callahan, an American nurse who was in Gaza with Doctors without Borders (MSF), described the situation in southern Gaza up till a week ago when she managed to cross through Rafah into Egypt.
She had evacuated to Khan Younis, where she shared a shelter with 35,000 internally displaced in a single complex.
“There were children with just massive burns down their faces, down their necks, all over their limbs,” she told CNN.
Callahan said food and water were desperately low, and the MSF staff had to count calories by the end. “We would have either starved to death or run out of water” were it not for her local staff, she said.
There were four toilets for the tens of thousands of Gazans, she added.
Callahan said that her personal safety was compromised, as angry locals accused her and her local staff of being Israelis or being traitors.
While pressure was mounting on Israel to allow in more aid, it still had the backing of major Western powers for its efforts to destroy Hamas.
Top diplomats from the Group of Seven leading industrial democracies announced a unified stance on the Israel-Hamas war after intensive meetings in Tokyo, condemning Hamas, supporting Israel’s right to self-defense and calling for “humanitarian pauses” to speed aid to Palestinian civilians.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and foreign ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and Italy “emphasize Israel’s right to defend itself and its people in accordance with international law as it seeks to prevent a recurrence” of the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.
They also expressed support for “humanitarian pauses to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement and release of hostages.”
The statement also called on Iran “to refrain from providing support for Hamas and taking further actions that destabilize the Middle East, including support for Lebanese Hezbollah and other non-state actors, and to use its influence with those groups to de-escalate regional tensions.”
It also condemned “the rise in extremist settler violence committed against Palestinians,” which the ministers say is “unacceptable, undermines security in the West Bank, and threatens prospects for a lasting peace.”
In a press conference following the meeting of the G7 in Tokyo, Blinken laid out what the US envisions for a post-war future in Gaza, urging that there be no “reoccupation” of Gaza by Israel, but admitting there may be a “transition period.”
“The only way to ensure this never happens again is to set the conditions for durable peace and security,” he said.
Blinken listed the elements the US said are needed to make that a reality: “No forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, not now, not after the war. No use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks. No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempts to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza. We must also ensure no terrorist threats emerge from the West Bank,” he said.
What it should have is “Palestinian governance, Gaza unified with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority… a sustained mechanism for reconstruction in Gaza, and a pathway” to a two-state solution, he added.
Asked about comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Israelis assuming security responsibility in Gaza indefinitely, Blinken allowed that “there may be a need for some transition period.”
Netanyahu said Tuesday the IDF has been reaching deeper into Gaza than Hamas ever imagined.
His defense minister, Yoav Gallant, meanwhile, said the IDF was now operating “in the heart” of Gaza City and “tightening the noose” around Hamas there.
His remarks came a month after the Hamas terror group launched a shock onslaught, killing some 1,400 people and injuring thousands — mostly civilians — and taking at least 240 men, women and children to Gaza as hostages. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in the Strip but has also had to contend with rocket fire from Lebanon and deadly attacks along its border with that country.
Netanyahu said that thousands of terrorists have been eliminated, both aboveground and in a vast network of tunnels, including many of those who planned and carried out the slaughter of October 7.
Regarding the hostages held in Gaza, Netanyahu said he had spoken with the president of the Red Cross and demanded that it work to secure their immediate release, “as required by international law.” He also demanded that the Red Cross visit all the hostages and establish their well-being, again as international law requires.
“There will not be a ceasefire without the return of our kidnapped,” Netanyahu stressed, delivering that declaration “to our enemies and our friends alike.” He also said no fuel would be allowed into the Strip before the hostages were freed. He added that the ground operation is a vital part of the effort to get the hostages home.
The October 7 Hamas attack came with a barrage of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli population centers. Hamas and other terror groups have continued raining rockets on Israel, causing more deaths and damage. Over 200,000 Israelis have been displaced by the attacks.
The Hamas-run health ministry claims that more than 10,500 Gazans have been killed since the start of the war, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches at Israel. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives.