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War on Gaza: Israel unleashes heaviest bombing in months

Intense air strikes and ground attacks return to Rafah and northern Gaza 
A mourner holds the hand of a Palestinian killed in Israeli strikes at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip 12 May 2024 (Reuters/Ramadan Abed)
A mourner holds the hand of a Palestinian killed in Israeli strikes at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on 12 May 2024 (Reuters/Ramadan Abed)

The Israeli military has launched a new wave of attacks across the Gaza Strip, similar in intensity to the peak of its seven-month war on the besieged Palestinian enclave. 

Heavy air strikes were reported across the strip over the weekend and on Monday, with attacks since Friday killing at least 180 Palestinians and wounding dozens more, according to the Palestinian health ministry. 

The raids coincided with incursions into Jabalia in northern Gaza, the Zeitoun neighbourhood in Gaza City and eastern Rafah

The ground advances have been met with fierce resistance by Hamas and other Palestinian groups, with at least five Israeli soldiers killed over the weekend, the Israeli military said. 

Another 68 have been wounded over the past 48 hours, including Yogev Bar Sheshet, a brigadier general and deputy defence establishment comptroller, the most senior Israeli officer wounded in the war so far.

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The heavy shelling has forced tens of thousands of people to temporarily flee their homes in Jabalia and Zeitoun.

In Rafah, the UN estimates nearly 360,000 have fled since last week. 

"We were displaced amidst the terrifying sounds of bombing, shelling and gunfire," said Diyaa Maliha, a taxi driver from Jabalia. 

"I wouldn't wish the experience of the horror of displacement on anyone," he told Middle East Eye. 

Having been already displaced five times since October, Maliha said he and his family did not want to leave their home again at first.

However, the heavy bombardment left them with no other option. 

'The people of Jabalia camp are showing remarkable resilience'

- Diyaa Maliha, Jabalia resident 

"The people of Jabalia camp are showing remarkable resilience and patience with some families still holding onto their homes despite the dangers," he said. 

"I attempted to check on our house but I was fired upon by a quadcopter, forcing me to flee. We've been living in a constant state of uncertainty for months, always on the move."

Most people who fled Jabalia and Zeitoun made it to western Gaza City, an area lacking basic infrastructure after months of Israeli attacks.

Maher Habboush said people have been continuously arriving to Gaza's west but struggling to find basic needs.

"People leave their homes carrying nothing, so they start looking for basic necessities all over again," Habboush said. 

"Some people used to seek shelter at al-Shifa hospital but it no longer exists [after Israel destroyed it]," he added.

"Families are seeking shelter in schools but those are overcrowded too."

'War's first days'

The Palestinian civil defence said the bombardment was reminiscent of "the war's first days", but far more devastating. 

They said this was due to medical services and emergency efforts being depleted after months of Israeli targeting. 

“We have lost 80 percent of our capabilities,” the civil defence said in a statement. 

“It has become very difficult for our crews to rescue the wounded and recover the martyrs.”

Ambulance workers said they were fired at by Israeli drones in Rafah and northern Gaza in recent days, preventing them from carrying out their work.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military continued to block the entry of aid through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings for a seventh day, according to Palestinian officials.

Rafah: The last refuge for 1.5m Palestinians

The closure of the two crossings has raised alarm among aid workers over the potential catastrophic consequences for Gaza's 2.2 million population, who face imminent famine.     

Aid operations could shut within days due to dwindling food and fuel stocks, United Nations aid agencies warned last week.

On Monday, the Palestinian health ministry said the health system was set to collapse "within hours" due to the lack of fuel. 

“Restricted humanitarian access is a matter of life or death for people in the Gaza Strip, who are already suffering amid relentless bombardments and food insecurity,” Unrwa, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said on Monday on X

“We immediately and urgently need safe passage for humanitarian aid and workers.”

Heavy fighting 

Some of the heaviest air strikes have targeted the Jabalia refugee camp, a densely populated area north of Gaza City. 

Jabalia camp is the largest of eight refugee camps in the besieged Gaza Strip, housing over 116,000 people officially registered with Unrwa. The actual number of people in the camp is likely to be much higher. 

It was established in 1948 following the Nakba - "catastrophe" in English - when 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for the creation of the state of Israel. 

The Jabalia camp is also the birthplace of the first Palestinian Intifada in 1987 and has long been a stronghold of Palestinian resistance. 

"My childhood memories are tainted by the presence of the Israeli occupation. When they invaded Jabalia in 2004, I was just a child, but I was terrified," Maliha, 29, told MEE.

"As an adult, understanding the gravity of a ground invasion and the potential loss of family, friends, or loved ones to Israeli shells or bullets makes it even more distressing."

A brief history of refugee camps in Gaza
Read More »

Earlier in the war, the camp came under relentless Israeli ground and aerial attacks. 

One Israeli air raid on 31 October killed at least 100 Palestinians and wounded hundreds more, in one of the war’s deadliest attacks. 

However, the heart of the Jabalia refugee camp remained one of the few areas not penetrated by Israeli tanks during the invasion of northern Gaza in November and December. 

This was mainly due to fierce resistance from Hamas and other Palestinian groups present there. 

Over the weekend, Hamas said it was engaging Israeli troops in heavy clashes there, drawing troops into deadly ambushes, firing mortar shells and hitting at least 10 tanks and armoured vehicles daily. 

Similar heavy fighting, which continued into Monday, was also reported in the Zeitoun neighbourhood and eastern Rafah. 

Hamas has also fired rockets at Israeli cities including Sderot, Ashkelon, Beersheba and areas near Gaza at the highest rate in months. 

MEE could not independently verify statements made by Hamas. 

The Israeli military said on Thursday it had launched “pinpoint raids” in Zeitoun and a new operation on Saturday in Jabalia after it identified Hamas “regrouping” in the two areas. 

The attack on Rafah started early last week shortly after Hamas said it agreed to a US-mediated ceasefire proposal leading to a permanent ceasefire, withdrawing Israeli troops from Gaza and releasing Israeli captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. 

Israeli officials dismissed the proposal saying that Hamas’ position was “far from meeting Israel’s core demands”. 

Subsequent indirect talks in Cairo appeared to hit a standstill late last week. 

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