Israeli strike kills 16 in southern Gaza; no word on whether medicines reached hostages

Palestinian medics say an Israeli airstrike on a home killed 16 people, half of them children, in the southern Gaza town of Rafah

January 18, 2024 10:43 pm | Updated 10:43 pm IST - RAFAH, Gaza Strip

This picture taken on January 18, 2024, from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment.

This picture taken on January 18, 2024, from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment. | Photo Credit: AFP

An Israeli airstrike on a home killed 16 people, half of them children, in the southern Gaza town of Rafah, medics said early Thursday. The military continued to strike targets in areas of the besieged territory where it has told civilians to seek refuge.

There was meanwhile no word on whether medicines that entered the territory Wednesday as part of a deal brokered by France and Qatar had been distributed to dozens hostages with chronic illnesses who are being held by Hamas.

More than 100 days after Hamas triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack, Israel continues to wage one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, with the goal of dismantling the militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007 and returning scores of captives. The war has stoked tensions across the region, threatening to ignite other conflicts.

More than 24,000 Palestinians have been killed, some 85% of the narrow coastal territory’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes, and the United Nations says a quarter of the population is starving.

Hundreds of thousands have heeded Israeli evacuation orders and packed into southern Gaza, where shelters run by the United Nations are overflowing and massive tent camps have gone up. But Israel has continued to strike what it says are militant targets in all parts of Gaza, often killing women and children.

Dr. Talat Barhoum at Rafah's el-Najjar Hospital confirmed the death toll from the strike in Rafah and said dozens more were wounded. Associated Press footage from the hospital showed relatives weeping over the bodies of loved ones.

“They were suffering from hunger, they were dying from hunger, and now they have also been hit,” said Mahmoud Qassim, a relative of some of those who were killed.

Internet and mobile services in Gaza have been down for five days, the longest of several outages during the war, according to internet access advocacy group NetBlocks. The outages complicate rescue efforts and make it difficult to obtain information about the latest strikes and casualties.

The war has rippled across the Middle East, with Iran-backed groups attacking U.S. and Israeli targets. Low-intensity fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon threatens to erupt into all-out war, and Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to target international shipping despite United States-led airstrikes.

The Israeli military said it fired an interceptor at a “suspicious aerial target” — likely a drone or missile — approaching over the Red Sea on Thursday, triggering air raid sirens in the southern Israeli coastal city of Eilat. The Houthis have launched drones and missiles toward Israel that mostly fell short or were intercepted and shot down.

Iran has meanwhile launched a series of missile attacks targeting what it described as an Israeli spy base in Iraq and militant bases in Syria as well as in Pakistan, which carried out reprisal strikes against what it described as militant hideouts in Iran early Thursday.

It was not clear if the strikes in Syria and Pakistan were related to the Gaza war. But they showcased Iran's ability to carry out long-range missile attacks at a time of heightened tensions with Israel and the U.S., which has provided crucial support for the Gaza offensive and carried out its own strikes against Iran-allied groups in Syria and Iraq.

Israel has vowed to dismantle Hamas to ensure it can never repeat an attack like the one on Oct. 7. Militants burst through Israel’s border defenses and stormed through several communities that day, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage.

Israel has also vowed to return all the hostages remaining in captivity after more than 100 — mostly women and children — were released during a November cease-fire in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Family members and supporters were marking the first birthday of Kfir Bibas, the youngest Israeli hostage, in a somber ceremony Thursday in Tel Aviv.

The red-haired infant and his 4-year-old brother Ariel were captured along with their mother, Shiri, and their father, Yarden. All four remain in captivity.

The agreement to ship in medicines was the first to be brokered between the warring sides since November. Hamas said that for every box of medicine bound for the hostages, 1,000 would be sent for Palestinian civilians, in addition to food and humanitarian aid.

Qatar confirmed late Wednesday that the medicine had entered Gaza, but it was not yet clear if it had been distributed to the hostages, who are being held in secret locations, including underground bunkers.

Hamas has continued to fight back across Gaza, even in the most devastated areas, and launch rockets into Israel. It says it will not release any more hostages until there is a permanent cease-fire, something Israel and the United States, its top ally, have ruled out.

Gaza’s Health Ministry says at least 24,448 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, with over 60,000 wounded. It says many other dead and wounded are trapped under rubble or unreachable because of the fighting. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths but says around two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

Israel blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it fights in dense residential areas. Israel says its forces have killed roughly 9,000 militants, without providing evidence, and that 193 of its own soldiers have been killed since the Gaza ground offensive began.

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