In comments to troops late Thursday, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said that there was still “work to be completed” in the north but that the military’s activity would then expand to “more and more regions,” suggesting preparation by the Israel Defense Forces to shift ground forces into the southern part of Gaza.
Halevi was echoed Friday by the head of the National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, who warned that the recent operations were “only the beginning,” adding that “we won’t stop until all of the military and control abilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad are neutralized.”
The comments came as Gaza grappled with another communications blackout caused by a lack of fuel. Amid the outages, Gaza’s Health Ministry said it could no longer count the number of dead, which stood at about 11,100 when the toll was last updated on Nov. 10.
Palestinian residents have continued to report significant civilian casualties from air and artillery strikes across Gaza. Al Jazeera news channel reported Friday that fighting continued around al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest. Israeli troops stormed the facility Tuesday night after weeks of the military’s maintaining that it was the “beating heart” of Hamas operations in the Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials thus far have presented scant evidence to vindicate that claim, aside from a few weapons and images of a large hole in the hospital complex that they assert is the entrance to a tunnel used by militants. On a visit on which they were escorted by IDF personnel, New York Times reporters photographed an image of a concrete shaft with electrical wiring and a metal structure appearing to be a ladder.
The hospital complex now resembles “military barracks, with the army stationed outside and free access to enter and exit,” Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said in a phone interview Friday.
“They recently explored various areas of the complex, including the basement, kitchen and MRI rooms,” Qudra said of Israeli forces. “However, since morning, they have not ventured inside the hospital.”
The picture emerging from doctors there was one of terror and privation. Muhammad Abu Salmiya, the hospital’s director, told Al Jazeera on Friday that patients in the intensive care unit who depended on oxygen had died. Ahmed Mokhallalati, who heads the hospital’s burn unit, said that without electricity to power their incubators, three dozen premature babies were suffering from “intestinal inflammation and severe diarrhea.”
The doctors estimated that some 7,000 people were trapped inside the buildings — the wounded and their families, displaced civilians, and medical staff. Because the area is not accessible to foreign reporters, it was not possible to verify their claims.
Qudra said that hospital employees were detained Friday morning as part of an Israeli investigation and later released. “The inquiry focused on their observations inside the hospital,” he added.
The IDF said that operations in the area were “ongoing” but that operational security prevented it from sharing details at this time.
The Gaza Strip already had been cut off from its meager supply of aid after the United Nations said that fuel shortages and communication blackouts had made it impossible to coordinate humanitarian convoys, and the agency warned that risks of starvation or malnutrition were rising across the territory.
After 16 years of Israeli and Egyptian blockade, the citizens of Gaza had been almost fully dependent on humanitarian aid before the conflict began on Oct. 7 with a deadly incursion by Hamas fighters into Israel. Since then, the World Food Program said Thursday, only 10 percent of the usual food supplies have entered the territory.
Fuel shortages have intensified the suffering in Gaza on almost every level: The main power station has gone dark, and backup generators are out of diesel, leaving many hospitals out of service. The communications network is in a near-total blackout. All of Gaza’s 130 bakeries are struggling to make enough bread.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, which is coordinating the humanitarian response inside Gaza, said it received some 23,000 liters of fuel — the equivalent of half a tanker — on Wednesday, the first such shipment that Israel has allowed across the Egyptian border with Gaza since the start of the war.
The initial delivery allowed UNRWA to move some trucks carrying humanitarian aid across the border from Egypt into Gaza on Thursday.
“It’s extremely difficult when you don’t have phones, when you don’t have internet,” said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for UNWRA. She was able to reach the head of the agency’s office in Gaza on Friday morning via satellite phone, she said. But without normal communications networks functioning, the agency cannot deliver aid, she said.
Israel’s government said Friday that it had approved the transfer of 60,000 liters of fuel for use by the United Nations to restore sewage and water facilities, a move framed by Israeli officials as a response to U.S. pressure.
Hanegbi suggested that it might be two containers a day, an amount that he said would represent only 2 to 4 percent of daily fuel that would have entered Gaza under normal conditions. “No drop of fuel” would go to the north, he said.
The Hamas attack on Israeli border communities that sparked the war killed 1,200 people inside Israel, and about 200 others were taken back into Gaza as hostages. The IDF said Friday that the bodies of two of those hostages were found in buildings near the hospital, although the military did not clarify whether there was any apparent connection with the facility.
Israeli troops found the body of 19-year-old Cpl. Noa Marciano, and her funeral took place on Friday. On Thursday, the body of Yehudit Weiss, a 65-year-old who had been taken hostage from the Be’eri kibbutz, was recovered. Israeli media reported that her husband was found slain in the safe room of their building after the attack and that Weiss had been battling cancer at the time of her abduction.
“We share in the family’s grief,” said IDF Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the military.
In Israel’s north, the IDF and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon traded cross-border strikes on Friday. A Defense Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely with the media, said Friday that there were three attacks by Iran-backed militias on U.S. facilities in Iraq and Syria.
Two attacks in Iraq caused no casualties or damage, the official said, but another one at the Tall Baydar base in Syria resulted in minor injuries to a U.S. service member.
The Gaza war also has sparked conflagration in the occupied West Bank. Extremist settlers have used the conflict as a cover to seize rural Palestinian lands. In crowded refugee camps, Palestinian militants say they are preparing escalation of their own as Israeli security forces step up raids in their communities. Several thousand Palestinians have been detained since Oct. 7, with rights groups warning that many of the arrests are arbitrary and that abuse of Palestinians in custody is spiking.
Three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli drone strike during a raid in the city of Jenin, according to WAFA, the official state news agency of the Palestinian Authority, which has jurisdiction in parts of the West Bank. In its own statement on the strike, Israel maintained that five were killed by an IDF “aircraft.”
The IDF described the target as “an armed terrorist cell that fired at Israeli security forces” and said that several “fled the area of the raid in vehicles and ambulances” toward Ibn Sina Hospital, where they were pursued and arrested by border police.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said ambulance crews at the hospital were detained and searched, “impeding their ability to aid the injured and transport patients.”
Loveluck and Parker reported from Jerusalem, Bisset from London and Dadouch from Beirut. Hazem Balousha in Amman, Jordan, and Cate Brown and Jonathan Baran in Washington also contributed to this report,