Israel hits Gaza as tensions surge on Lebanon border

Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories   -   Israeli forces struck Gaza and battled Hamas fighters on Friday as truce efforts failed to make progress and tensions surged on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. Witnesses reported strikes on the southern city of Rafah and central areas of the Gaza Strip.

At Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah, men gathered over the body of an 11-year-old boy who died during a bombardment of nearby Bureij refugee camp. In a black singlet, the child lay on a floor smeared with fresh blood, a white bandage covering the top half of his face, AFP images showed.

The Israeli military said troops continued operations in central Gaza, where warplanes struck a militant cell in the Zeitun area. After projectiles were fired from northern Gaza into southern Israel on Thursday night, artillery and aircraft hit the launch sites, the army said. Witnesses in Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, reported helicopter fire on the city’s west and centre, while Hamas’s armed wing said its militants fired mortar rounds at Israeli troops near the Tal al-Sultan neighbourhood.

Fears of a broader Middle East conflict have surged again, with Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters launching waves of rockets, missiles and drones against Israeli military targets. Hezbollah said intense strikes since Wednesday were retaliation for Israel’s killing of one of its commanders. Sirens sounded in northern Israel, where police said munitions had hit in the Kiryat Shmona area, with no reports of casualties. The military said “approximately 35 projectiles were identified crossing from Lebanon”. “A number” of them were intercepted while some caused fires. Israeli forces responded with shelling, the military said, also announcing air strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure across the border. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that Israeli “warplanes launched a raid targeting a house” in the southern town of Jannata. Two women were killed, village official Hassan Shur said, the latest deaths in near-daily exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and the Israeli military since the start of the Gaza war.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that his country and the United States would work separately with Israeli and Lebanese authorities to ease tensions. During a Middle East trip this week to push a Gaza ceasefire plan, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “the best way” to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was “a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a ceasefire”.

At a summit of G7 leaders in Italy, US President Joe Biden called Hamas “the biggest hang-up so far” to reaching a deal on a Gaza truce and hostage release.

The Palestinian group has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire, demands Israel has repeatedly rejected. Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed, has not publicly endorsed it. Biden’s roadmap for the first truce since a week-long pause and hostage-prisoner release in November includes a six-week ceasefire, hostage releases and Gaza’s reconstruction. On Monday, the UN Security Council adopted a US-drafted resolution supporting the plan. The World Health Organization said more than 8,000 children aged under five in Gaza had been treated for acute malnutrition.

AFP images from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital showed the grieving family of a 10-year-old boy who died suffering from malnutrition. His limbs appeared thin and his ribcage was clearly visible.

- US sanctions -

The United States imposed sanctions Friday on an Israeli group whose activists have blocked Gaza-bound aid convoys.

“Individuals from Tzav 9 have repeatedly sought to thwart the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including by blockading roads, sometimes violently,” the US State Department said.

“They also have damaged aid trucks and dumped life-saving humanitarian aid onto the road.”

The draft of a G7 end-of-summit statement, seen by AFP, said its leaders urge the “rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need” in Gaza, particularly women and children.

The draft said the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, must be allowed to work unhindered in Gaza. Israel had accused 12 of the agency’s 13,000 Gaza staff of involvement in the October 7 attack, prompting a number of donor governments to temporarily suspend their contributions.

The draft also called for aid flow through “all relevant land crossing points” including the Rafah border, which has been shut since Israeli forces launched a ground operation in the city in early May.

As Muslims worldwide prepare to mark Eid al-Adha starting Sunday, Gazans lamented soaring prices and shortages of essential goods -- including sacrificial animals for the festival -- leaving little to celebrate in the besieged territory.

“There is no Eid spirit,” Mohammed Shabat, who like most of Gaza’s population has been displaced by the war, said outside his tent in Deir al-Balah.