Israel pounded the Gaza Strip with airstrikes Thursday, including in the south where Palestinians were told to take refuge, as the Israeli defense minister ordered ground troops to prepare to see Gaza “from the inside”, though he didn’t indicate when the ground assault would begin.
Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals tried to stretch out ebbing medical supplies and fuel for generators, as authorities worked out logistics for a desperately needed aid delivery from Egypt. Doctors in darkened wards across Gaza performed surgeries by the light of mobile phones and used vinegar to treat infected wounds.
Amid the violence, President Joe Biden pledged unwavering support for Israel’s security, “today and always,” while adding that the world “can’t ignore the humanity of innocent Palestinians” in the besieged Gaza Strip.
In an address Thursday night from the Oval office, hours after returning to Washington from an urgent visit to Israel, Biden drew a distinction between ordinary Palestinians and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. He linked the current war in Gaza to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying Hamas and Russian President Vladimir Putin “both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy.”
Biden said he was sending an “urgent budget request” to Congress on Friday, to cover emergency military aid to both Israel and Ukraine.
Meanwhile, an unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment delivered to Congress estimated casualties in an explosion at a Gaza City hospital this week on the “low end” of 100 to 300 deaths. The death toll “still reflects a staggering loss of life,” U.S. intelligence officials said in the report, seen by The Associated Press. It said intelligence officials were still assessing the evidence and their casualty estimate may evolve.
Biden and other U.S. officials already have said that U.S. intelligence officials believe the explosion at al-Ahli Hospital was not caused by an Israeli airstrike. Thursday’s findings echoed that.
The Israeli military has relentlessly attacked Gaza in retaliation for the devastating Oct. 7 Hamas rampage in southern Israel. Even after Israel told Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza and flee south, strikes extended across the territory, heightening fears among the territory’s 2.3 million people that nowhere was safe.
Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, and tensions flared in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
In a fiery speech to Israeli infantry soldiers on the Gaza border, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant urged the forces to “get organized, be ready” to move in. Israel has massed tens of thousands of troops along the border.
“Whoever sees Gaza from afar now, will see it from the inside,” he said. “It might take a week, a month, two months until we destroy them,” he added, referring to Hamas.
Israel’s consent for Egypt to let in food, water and medicine provided the first possible opening in its seal of the territory. Many Gaza residents are down to one meal a day and drinking dirty water.
Egypt and Israel were still negotiating the entry of fuel for hospitals. Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Hamas has stolen fuel from U.N. facilities and Israel wants assurances that won’t happen. The first trucks of aid were expected to go in Friday.
With the Egypt-Gaza border crossing in Rafah closed, the already dire conditions at Gaza’s second-largest hospital deteriorated further, said Dr. Mohammed Qandeel of Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis. Power was shut off in most of the hospital and medical staff were using mobile phones for light.
At least 80 wounded civilians and 12 dead flooded into the hospital after witnesses said a strike hit a residential building in Khan Younis. Doctors had no choice but to leave two to die because there were no ventilators, Qandeel said.
“We can’t save more lives if this keeps happening,” he said.
The Gaza Health Ministry pleaded with gas stations to give fuel to hospitals and a U.N. agency donated some of its last fuel.
The agency’s donation to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, would “keep us going for another few hours,” hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia said.
Al-Ahli Hospital was still recovering from Tuesday’s explosion, which remains a point of dispute between Hamas and Israel. Hamas quickly said an Israeli airstrike hit the hospital, which Israel denied. The AP has not independently verified any of the claims or evidence released by the parties.