Israel to open Kerem Shalom Crossing for Gaza aid inspection

IDF says Hamas firing rockets from Gaza safe zones as civilian scramble for shelter

Military says terror group launched projectiles from next to tents housing civilians; troops push further into Khan Younis, Jabaliya; 5 soldiers killed, taking ground op toll to 89

Displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Younis set up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 6, 2023. (MAHMOUD HAMS / AFP)
Displaced Palestinians who fled Khan Younis set up camp in Rafah further south near the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt, on December 6, 2023. (MAHMOUD HAMS / AFP)

Rockets fired at Israel on Wednesday were launched from within humanitarian zones set up in Gaza to allow civilians a safe haven, Israel’s military charged Thursday, as troops pressed into major Hamas strongholds in northern and southern Gaza amid heavy fighting.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, two separate rocket attacks Wednesday afternoon, including a large barrage aimed at Negev metropolis Beersheba, were fired from the vicinity of areas that are supposed to be free of hostilities, putting civilians at risk.

“At 3:59 p.m., Hamas terrorists launched 12 rockets toward Israeli civilians in the city of Beersheba in southern Israel. The rockets were launched from near tents of evacuated Gazan civilians in Rafah in southern Gaza and from next to United Nations facilities,” the IDF said in a statement.

It said a rocket was also fired three hours earlier “from inside a humanitarian zone. The rocket misfired, putting many Gazan civilians at risk.”

The evacuation zones are areas designated by the IDF as safe for civilians within the Gaza Strip.

Israel has long accused Gaza-based terror groups of using Palestinians in the Strip as human shields, operating from sites including schools and hospitals which are supposed to be protected.

While many of the rockets in the Beersheba attack were intercepted, one rocket slammed into a parking lot in the city’s industrial zone, causing damage to nearby vehicles. No injuries were reported.

Rocket fire continued on Thursday toward towns in southern Israel. There were no injuries or damage reported.

Meanwhile, the IDF said troops continued to advance in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis and the Jabaliya camp in the north of the Strip, as the Air Force carried out strikes on dozens of Hamas targets.

The IDF said that in one incident, two Hamas operatives popped out of a tunnel and opened fire at forces, who responded by killing the gunmen and destroying the tunnel shaft. It published footage showing the incident.

In northern Gaza, troops captured a main Hamas outpost in the area and killed several operatives in the process, the IDF said. Tunnels and weapons were found in the area.

The IDF also said the Navy has continued to assist the ground forces, carrying out strikes and shelling of Hamas sites along the coast.

Amid the intense battles, the military announced the deaths of five soldiers killed during the fighting, bringing the toll of slain soldiers during the ground offensive against Hamas since late October to 89.

They were named as Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25, of the 551st Brigade’s 699th Battalion, from Herzliya; Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan David Deitch, 34, of the 55th Brigade’s 6623rd Reconnaissance Battalion, from Harish; Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, 22, of the Paratroopers Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Shoham; Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, 22, of the Commando Brigade’s Duvdevan unit, from Kiryat Gat; Sgt. First Class (res.) Maor Gershoni, 24, of the 6th Brigade’s 8173rd Battalion, from Yokne’am Illit.

Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot (left) and Sgt. Maj. (res.) Jonathan David Deitch, who were killed in the Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Eisenkot is the son of Minister Gadi Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff who is minister in the emergency government on behalf of Benny Gantz’s National Unity party, and an observer on the high-level war cabinet leading the decision-making in the Gaza campaign.

Feleke was wounded December 5 during fighting in southern Gaza and succumbed to his wounds on Wednesday, the army said.

Staff Sgt. Amit Bonzel, left, and Staff Sgt. Alemnew Emanuel Feleke, (c), (R) Sgt. First Class (res.) Maor Gershoni, 24, killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces/Courtesy)

Israel’s advance on Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city, has added to an already dire humanitarian situation in south Gaza, with thousands fleeing further southward to Rafah and others desperately searching for basic supplies. Some accused Hamas of stealing aid from civilians.

As the Israeli troops advanced deeper into the Strip, the humanitarian situation in the Gaza deteriorated, and World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the enclave’s health system was nearing total collapse.

In a tweet expressing support for UN chief Antonio Guterres’s calls for a ceasefire, Ghebreyesus said Gaza’s health system, run by Hamas, is “on its knees and near total collapse. We need peace for health.”

Guterres raised Israel’s ire Wednesday after he invoked a rare clause in the UN charter in a letter to the UN Security Council, calling for action on Gaza.

According to the United Nations, more than 80 percent of Gazans are thought to be displaced from their homes in the ongoing war, which was triggered when Hamas terrorists stormed across the border, killing around 1,200 people in Israel and taking 240 hostage, some 140 of whom are believed to still be held in the Strip.

Israelis put up posters of the civilians held hostage by Hamas terrorists in Gaza, at ‘Hostage Square’ in Tel Aviv, December 6, 2023. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Areas where Gazans can seek safety are rapidly receding, with many displaced multiple times.

With northern and central Gaza seeing intense fighting, Palestinians are heading further south to Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt, where family homes are packed tight and makeshift shelters are overflowing.

Tens of thousands of people have fled from Khan Younis and other areas to Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt. Rafah, normally home to around 280,000 people, is already hosting more than 470,000 who fled from other parts of Gaza.

On the other side of the border, Egypt has deployed thousands of troops and erected barriers to prevent any mass influx of refugees.

Before it launched its ground operation in north Gaza in late October, the IDF urged those living in the northern part of the Strip to head south as its troops advanced. Now, after the end of a temporary truce deal, which concluded when Hamas violated the terms, troops have pushed further into the south, where Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding, leaving civilians feeling they have few places left to flee.

A woman mourns over the bodies of family members killed during Israeli strikes, at al-Najjar hospital in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on December 7, 2023 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The World Food Program said Thursday a “catastrophic hunger crisis” threatens to “overwhelm the civilian population” in Gaza.

Israel maintains that Hamas is stockpiling supplies and keeping them from an increasingly desperate civilian population.

In a bid to facilitate an increase in the number of aid trucks that can enter Gaza each day, Israel will open the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Gaza for the inspection of humanitarian aid trucks in the coming days for the first time since the outbreak of the war, a senior Israeli official said Thursday.

Israel currently inspects the trucks at the smaller Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt before they are sent to Rafah.

While Israel will use the Kerem Shalom facilities to inspect the trucks, they will still need to enter Gaza through Rafah.

The Biden administration and the broader international community have been pressuring Israel for weeks to open Kerem Shalom, previously Gaza’s main goods crossing.

Israel on Wednesday approved a “minimal” increase in fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip to prevent a humanitarian crisis, amid mounting pressure from Washington to ramp up aid to Gaza and to take further steps to avoid mass civilian casualties.

Israel has restricted fuel shipments into Gaza since the outbreak of the war over concerns that the crucial resource will fall into the hands of Hamas for military purposes. Humanitarian officials say the fuel shortages have crippled the health care system and hindered deliveries of basic humanitarian supplies.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced that the security cabinet voted to approve the war cabinet’s proposal to increase the daily amount of fuel allowed into the Gaza Strip.

The PMO did not say how by how much the delivery will grow, merely saying the additional fuel approved is “the minimal amount needed to prevent a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics in the southern Gaza Strip.

“This minimal amount will be determined from time to time by the war cabinet, in accordance with the disease rate and humanitarian conditions in the Strip.”

Channel 12 news cited unsourced “estimates” that the war cabinet will gradually increase the daily amount from the current 60,000 liters to three times that amount, 180,000 liters, in accordance with the US demand.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Tuesday that 16,248 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, a figure that largely tracks with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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