KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip – Internet and phone services collapsed across the Gaza Strip on Thursday due to a lack of fuel, the main Palestinian supplier said, causing a potentially prolonged communications blackout even as Israel signaled its offensive could next target the south. territory, where most of the population has taken refuge.
Meanwhile, Israeli troops searched the Shifa hospital in the north for a second day for traces of Hamas. They displayed weapons they say were found hidden in a building, but have yet to release any evidence that Hamas’ central command center that Israel has said is hidden beneath the complex. Hamas and staff at the hospital, Gaza’s largest, deny the allegations.
The communication breakdown threatens to worsen the serious humanitarian crisis in southern Gaza, where Israeli airstrikes continue. Food, water and electricity are increasingly in short supply, and the UN is struggling with its own fuel shortages to deliver aid and keep hospitals running.
Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are crammed into southern Gaza, including hundreds of thousands who heeded Israel’s calls to evacuate the north to escape its ground offensive. If the attack moves into the south, it is not clear where they would go, as Egypt refuses to allow a mass transfer to its soil.
The latest internet and phone outage threatens to last long-term. The main supplier, Palnet, said it had run out of fuel to power the network, and Israel has blocked entry for new supplies. Gaza’s fragile communications network has broken down several times during the conflict due to bombardments or blockades by Israel, but each time Gaza authorities were able to quickly restore it.
Previous blackouts have traumatized Palestinians, leaving them unable to call ambulances or reach scattered family members to ensure they are alive amid the bombardment. Aid workers say it is hampering humanitarian operations and hospitals. The blackout also largely cuts off Gaza from the outside world, making it even more difficult for international media to cover events on the ground. Some manage to maintain communications using satellite phones or SIM cards that reach the Israeli or Egyptian networks.
The war, now in its sixth week, was sparked by a massive Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7 in which the militants killed over 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and captured around 240 men, women and children. Israel responded with a weeks-long air campaign and a ground invasion of northern Gaza, vowing to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
More than 11,200 Palestinians have been killed, two-thirds of them women and minors, according to Palestinian health authorities. A further 2,700 have been reported missing, most of whom are believed to be buried under the rubble. The official count does not distinguish between civilian and militant deaths, and Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.
The war has raised tensions elsewhere. On Thursday, gunmen shot and wounded four people at a checkpoint on the main road connecting Jerusalem with Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
The three attackers were killed, according to police, who said the attackers had assault rifles, handguns and axes and were preparing a large-scale attack in Jerusalem.
SOME GUNS, BUT STILL NO GUNS
Israeli troops stormed Gaza’s main hospital on Wednesday, where newborns and hundreds of other patients have suffered for days without electricity and other basic supplies.
Troops searched the hospital’s underground levels on Thursday and detained technicians responsible for running its equipment, Gaza’s health ministry said in a statement.
After surrounding Shifa for days, Israel is under pressure to prove its claim that Hamas used the patients, staff and civilians staying there to provide cover for its soldiers. The allegation – which the US has said it has intelligence to support – is part of Israel’s wider charge that Hamas is using Palestinians as human shields.
The military released a video from inside Shifa showing three duffel bags they said they found hidden around an MRI lab, each containing an assault rifle, grenades and Hamas uniforms, as well as a closet containing a number of assault rifles without ammunition clips. The Associated Press could not independently verify the Israeli claims that the weapons were found inside the hospital.
Hamas and Gaza health authorities deny that militants are operating in Shifa – a hospital that employs about 1,500 people and has more than 500 beds. Palestinians and rights groups accuse Israel of recklessly endangering civilians.
Inside the hospital, Munir al-Boursh, a senior official with Gaza’s health ministry, said troops searched the basement and other buildings, questioning and scanning the faces of patients, staff and people sheltering in the facility.
Israeli forces battled militants outside the hospital for several days, but there were no reports of militants firing from inside Shifa, or of any fighting inside the hospital after Israeli troops entered.
The health ministry said 40 patients, including three infants, have died since Shifa’s emergency generator ran out of fuel on Saturday. There was no word on the condition of another 36 children, who the ministry previously said were at risk of death. The military said its soldiers were accompanied by medical teams bringing in incubators and other supplies, although staff said the incubators were useless without fuel.
Israeli forces released leaflets telling Palestinians in areas east of the southern city of Khan Younis to evacuate, saying anyone near militants or their positions “puts his life at risk.” Similar leaflets were dropped over northern Gaza for weeks before the ground invasion.
Two reporters who live east of Khan Younis confirmed seeing the leaflets. Others shared images of the flyers on social media. The military declined to comment.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Wednesday that the ground operation will eventually “include both the north and the south. We will hit Hamas wherever it is.”
Even as Israel signals a wider offensive, it has yet to lay out a long-term plan, other than to say it will maintain security control over Gaza indefinitely.
The United States has urged Israel not to reoccupy the territory, from which it withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005. The Biden administration supports the eventual creation of a Palestinian state including Gaza and the occupied West Bank — also the long-held aspiration of the Palestinians. The government of Israel was strongly opposed to a Palestinian state even before the war.
The military says it has largely consolidated its control of the north, including seizing and demolishing government buildings. Video released by the army on Thursday showed soldiers moving between heavily damaged buildings through holes blown into their walls.
The military said it had blown up a residence belonging to Ismail Haniyeh, a senior Hamas leader based abroad. It was unclear if anyone was in the building.
With most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people crammed into the southern parts of the territory, residents say bread is scarce and supermarket shelves are bare. Families cook on wood fires for lack of fuel. Central electricity and running water have been out for weeks.
The worsening fuel shortage threatens to paralyze the delivery of humanitarian services, and Palestinian telecoms provider Paltel said on Thursday it caused landline, mobile and internet connections to shut down.
Gaza has experienced three previous mass communications blackouts since the ground invasion.
Israel allowed a small amount of fuel into Gaza on Wednesday, for the first time since the war began, so that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees could continue to bring in limited aid supplies.
The fuel cannot be used for hospitals or to desalinate water and covers less than 10% of what the agency needs to sustain “life-saving activities,” said Thomas White, the agency’s Gaza director.
Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Amy Teibel and Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war.
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