Israeli forces enter Gaza City as foreign nationals flee

Israel Defence Forces say they have sealed off the city and are closing in on Hamas’s military and centres of power

Israeli forces were on Thursday fighting in Gaza City neighbourhoods and said they had sealed off the city as they closed in on Hamas’s military and civilian centres of power.

The fighting marked a new phase in the war which began on October 7th, when Israel began its daily bombardment of Gaza after Hamas militants killed 1,400 people in Israel and took more than 200 hostages in the deadliest attack in the country’s 75-year history.

“We are fighting inside significant areas inside Gaza City… inside central Hamas facilities, destroying targets underground and above ground, killing Hamas terrorists and activists,” said Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Lt Gen Herzi Halevi.

At least 17 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting. Hamas has not released details of its casualties.


The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the coastal enclave since Israel began its assault almost a month ago. Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Israeli air strikes on Thursday killed more than 20 people sheltering at UN schools in Gaza.

About 500 foreign passport holders and seriously injured residents left Gaza via the Rafah crossing to Egypt on Thursday, on the second day the passage was opened.

Some 35 Irish citizens in Gaza have not been able to leave the besieged Palestinian enclave.

As of Wednesday, several Irish citizens were located in Gaza City, where main evacuation routes have now been cut off. It remains unclear whether Irish citizen Zak Hania and his family, including four children, will be able to safely travel to the Rafah crossing from Gaza City.

Irish citizen Ibrahim Al-Agha told RTÉ on Wednesday that he was disappointed that his family had not been included in the first list of evacuees.

Mr Al-Agha’s cousin Yara Al-Agha told The Irish Times that Mr Al-Agha’s family were planning to stay in the southern city of Khan Younis until they received an update from the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs about whether they had been included on a list of foreign nationals with permission to exit Gaza at the Rafah border crossing.

Two Irish citizens working with the UN will not be evacuated to Egypt and will instead remain in Gaza which is facing a humanitarian crisis as supplies of food, water and fuel dwindle and civilian casualties from Israeli bombardments are estimated to exceed 9,000.

Residents of the Shati refugee camp, also known as Beach camp, on the Gaza coastline, were told by the IDF to leave their homes for their own safety on Thursday.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said he had not approved the transfer of any fuel to Gaza despite comments by Lt Gen Halevi that fuel would be allowed in for use in hospitals if and when they ran out.

The issue is expected to be raised by US secretary of state Antony Blinken in talks with Israeli leaders on Friday, during his third trip to the Middle East since the start of the war. According to US estimates, Hamas holds about 40 per cent of the 500,000 litres of fuel remaining in Gaza.

Mr Blinken is expected to ask Israel for a humanitarian pause in the fighting to allow for hostages to be released and for humanitarian aid to be distributed. It is understood he will also seek to discuss what Israel has in mind for Gaza once the fighting ends. There are unconfirmed reports that Israeli officials, from the prime minister down, have begun to seriously consider the option of allowing members of Hamas’s military wing and its leadership safe passage out of the Gaza Strip in exchange for freeing the hostages and allowing for a non-Hamas regime to be established in Gaza.

Israel gave an updated figure of 242 on Thursday for the number of hostages seized on October 7th when 3,000 gunmen stormed into southern Israel from Gaza.

Contacts about a potential hostage release have taken place but international mediators including Qatar, Egypt and the US are declining to comment. Hamas has so far released four hostages and has indicated that it may free some foreign captives in the coming days.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem