Israeli strikes kill dozens in Gaza as US says it won't 'dictate timelines' of war

UN Security Council to vote on UAE-drafted resolution calling for 'sustainable cessation of hostilities'

Palestinians surrounded by destroyed buildings after an Israeli air strike in a residential district of the Al Shaboura refugee camp in Rafah, southern Gaza. Bloomberg
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More than 200 Palestinians, mostly children, were killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Gaza, authorities in Gaza said on Tuesday, after the US confirmed it was not looking to dictate how much longer the war should last.

Ten weeks into the war, which has claimed the lives of thousands in the coastal enclave, Washington was expected to press Israel on the next phase of its offensive, with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin meeting the country's leaders in Tel Aviv.

However, the Pentagon chief reaffirmed America's “unshakeable” support for its ally on Monday, insisting his country would not “dictate timelines or terms”.

As Mr Austin‘s trip came to an end, Israel’s jet fighters and tanks hammered Gaza with relentless air strikes and shelling overnight, focusing its fire on the central and southern parts near the Egyptian border.

“More than 200 citizens were killed, most of them children,” Palestinian news agency Wafa reported, quoting Gaza health officials.

“The Israeli bombing operations were concentrated at dawn, on Tuesday, in Rafah and Khan Younis,” it added.

Heavy strikes in Khan Younis broke glass in nearby apartment windows, one resident told The National.

“A bomb from a nearby strike shook the apartment. The glass in our place was not shattered but we heard it break in other apartments. It was very loud,” said the resident, who asked not to be named.

He said he could not sleep following the strike.

“The time is approaching 6.30am and I just heard a strong explosion. I hope no one died," he wrote in a text message sent to The National.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military confirmed two more of its soldiers were killed during clashes in northern Gaza on Monday.

This brings the number of soldiers killed since it began its ground operation in the Palestinian enclave to 131.

Health and local sources in Rafah reported “at least 25 Palestinian civilians were killed, including journalist Adel Zourob, and a number of children and women, in a bombing that targeted three homes”.

With the death of Mr Zourob, the number of journalists killed in the Gaza Strip rose to 94 since Israel launched its assault on October 7 in response to the Hamas attacks that killed about 1,200 people in Israel.

Gaza’s Ministry of Health spokesman Ashraf Al Qudra said 19,453 Palestinians have been killed in the war so far and 52,286 injured.

As civilian casualties mount, the UN Security Council is due to vote on Tuesday on a new resolution calling for the “urgent suspension of hostilities to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian access.”

The vote comes days after the US blocked a previous resolution that would have called for a “humanitarian ceasefire.”

The latest resolution, drafted by the UAE, was introduced by Arab states after a recent vote in the General Assembly, in which the UN's 193 members called overwhelmingly for a ceasefire, with 153 in favour, 10 against and 23 abstentions.

Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s ambassador to the UN, has described the situation in Gaza as a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every single day, innocent people in Gaza are struggling desperately for want of food, water, medicine and fuel. Members of the UN Security Council have seen the consequences of this humanitarian catastrophe first-hand and the need for more aid could not be clearer,” Ms Nusseibeh told The National before the vote.

“It underlines the critical importance of stopping hostilities to allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and we will continue to aggressively pursue that goal.”

Mr Al Qudra said “hundreds of thousands” of wounded, pregnant women, children and chronically ill people in northern Gaza were without health services amid what he described as “international silence on the crimes of the Israeli forces against hospitals”.

He also warned of the risk of infectious diseases spreading.

Health crews have identified 355,000 cases of skin and infectious diseases, Mr Al Qudra said. The number has yet to be verified independently.

Last week, the UN warned Gaza was facing a public health disaster due to the collapse of its health system and the spread of disease but did not give exact numbers.

On December 10, the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said there had been more than 5,000 cases of chickenpox and 10,000 cases of scabies, 18,800 skin rashes and "tens of thousands of cases of severe influenza".

Updated: December 19, 2023, 3:20 PM