Israel-Hamas war: Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Bodies of three hostages taken in October 7th attack recovered in Gaza, Israel says

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armour had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.

Israel had said its forces had cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on October 7th, but said last week it was returning to prevent the Islamist group re-grouping there.


At the southern end of Gaza, thick smoke rose over Rafah, bordering Egypt, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the only places of refuge left.

“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, the UN humanitarian office spokesman said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north towards the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.

Israel said on Friday that its forces had recovereds the bodies of three hostages from Gaza, without saying where they were found.

“Shani Louk, Amit Buskila and Yitzhak Gelernter were murdered by Hamas while escaping the Nova music festival on October 7th and their bodies were taken into Gaza,” chief military spokesman Daniel Hagari told a briefing.

As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks had started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier built off the coast, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The United Nations said it was finalising plans to distribute the aid, while reiterating that truck convoys by land – disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah – were the most efficient way of getting aid in.

“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Jabalia resident Rajab, a father of four, said food aid was not the answer: “We want this war to end and then we can manage our lives on our own,” he said.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said troops had killed more than 60 militants in recent days and located a weapons warehouse close to a shelter complex in what it described as a “divisional-level offensive” in Jabalia.

A divisional operation would typically involve multiple brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

“Even now, the soldiers are exchanging fire with terrorist cells in the area,” the IDF said. “The 7th Brigade’s fire control centre directed dozens of air strikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure.”

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s Hamas-run health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and the threat of disease.

Doctors say they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anaesthetics or painkillers as the medical system in the territory has virtually collapsed.

Israel says it must destroy Hamas for its own safety after the deaths of 1,200 people on October 7th, and to free the 128 hostages still held out of 253 abducted by the militants, according to its tallies.

To achieve that, it says it must capture Rafah, where about half of the territory’s 2.3 million people had sought shelter from fighting further north.

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were firing anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Unrwa, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6th. Many have crowded into Deir al-Balah, a city up the coast that is the only other one in Gaza yet to be assaulted by Israeli forces.

“They’re moving to areas where there is no water – we’ve got to truck it in – and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at Unrwa said by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet. – Reuters