Fresh Israeli air strikes take Gaza death toll to 24, including five children
The Israeli army concluded the second day of its military operation in Gaza with large-scale deadly attacks on overcrowded residential areas, taking the toll to at least 24 people killed since Friday, with at least 203 civilians having been wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Four minors and a teenager were killed in a suspected Israeli air strike that hit a residential area near a mosque in the overcrowded Jabalia refugee camp, in the north of the Gaza Strip, late on Saturday, reports Middle East Eye correspondent Mohammed al-Hajjar.
'It was literally a massacre. There are no other words to describe it. I'm still in shock at what I saw. They were just children'
- Ahamd Arafah, eyewitness
The victims were identified as Momen al-Nairab, aged five, Hazem Salem, nine, Khalil Shubair, 10, Ahmad al-Nairb, 11 and Khalil Abu Hamada, 19.
A further 15 people were wounded, most of whom were children.
Ahamd Arafah, an eyewitness, described scenes of horror.
"I can't even put to words what I have just witnessed, I'm still shaking," Arafah told MEE.
"We were watching the news like everyone, then we heard screaming and went outside. I saw frightening scenes. Blood-covered children, body parts all over the street, people running around confused.
"Of course, all of this is amid power outages, and we can barely see what happened," said Arafah, adding that they then began taking bodies into the ambulances, about 10 in each vehicle.
"It was literally a massacre. There are no other words to describe it. I'm still in shock at what I saw. They were just children. What is their crime?"
The Israeli army denied conducting any air strikes in the area at the time of the blast, saying it was likely a misfired Palestinian rocket.
At the same time, another wave of heavy bombing hit Rafah city, in the south of the Gaza Strip. The strike hit a house belonging to the al-Mudallal family.
According to initial reports, at least 30 people have been wounded while some remain buried under the rubble.
"The attack came with no warning, and multiple bombs hit the residential area," local journalist Wael Abu Omar said. "The wounded included elders, women and children."
An air strike on Friday near a mosque in the Shujaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City killed five-year-old Alaa Qaddoum, a 23-year-old woman and a 75-year-old grandmother.
Palestinian authorities said that 650 housing units had been damaged in the first 24 hours of the Israeli onslaught, which has targeted several residential towers, according to local media.
Israel warned on Saturday that its deadly bombing campaign on Gaza could last a week, as cross-border fire reverberated for a second day in the worst escalation since last year's war.
"We've never seen this level of brutality. We are all civilians here. There are no members of any armed group," Khamees Shammalk, 75, told MEE.
"They only gave us 15 minutes to evacuate, and we had to rush ourselves out. We couldn't take any of our belongings out," he said.
Hospitals face shutdown
Amid the continued Israeli assault on Saturday, the Palestinian health ministry warned that health facilities in Gaza were facing a total shutdown within 72 hours and called for the international community to put pressure on Israel to allow patients out of the enclave.
Earlier in the day, Gaza's sole power plant said it was forced to close down, as Israel prevented the entry of fuel trucks into Gaza for almost a week. The closure of the plant means that Gaza's population will get only four hours of electricity a day.
As a result of prolonged power outages, Gaza's hospitals will face "difficult and decisive" hours, the ministry said in a statement.
"The power outage poses a serious threat to the work of vital departments in hospitals, especially emergency departments, intensive care, operations, dialysis departments, laboratories, nurseries, laundries, oxygen systems and medical gases," the ministry added.
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"The Ministry of Health calls on all international, humanitarian and relief institutions to stand up to their responsibilities to pressure the Israeli occupation to allow patients in need of critical care to pass through the Beit Hanoun crossing immediately and work to supply health facilities with its urgent needs and fuel supplies."
The health sector in Gaza had been facing "the worst situation in years" before the assault even began, it added, experiencing a 40 percent shortage of medical supplies, 30 percent of the required emergency and surgical supplies and 60 percent of laboratory and blood bank supplies.
"Israeli forces are using lethal force against Palestinian citizens, resulting in the amputation of upper and lower limbs of children who were transported to hospitals yesterday," Mohammed Abu Salmiyeh, the director of al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, told Middle East Eye.
A Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, Sami Abu Shehadeh, slammed the Israeli military operation in Gaza as part of an election campaign by caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
“Israel's latest aggression in Gaza shows the will of Lapid and Gantz and their [governing] coalition to do anything to stay in power, including the killing of a five-year-old girl.
'Israel's latest aggression in Gaza shows the will of Lapid and Gantz and their coalition to do anything to stay in power'
- Sami Abu Shehadeh, Joint List
"This new war crime is part of an immoral electoral campaign to show they can be as criminal as Benjamin Netanyahu," Shehadeh told MEE, referring to the leader of the opposition, who led three military campaigns against Gaza during his time as prime minister.
"The Palestinian people are in urgent need of international protection. The Israeli government has increased its attacks and crimes in Palestine, and this isn't only about a particular faction: their attacks go from human rights organisations to the families of Sheikh Jarrah," Shehadeh, a lawmaker with the Joint List, said, referring to an area of East Jerusalem where people have been evicted from their homes.
"Who will stop these war crimes? The international community keeps rewarding the Israeli occupation in a way that apartheid gets deeper. But it isn't irreversible: we shall continue struggling for justice, freedom and equality, which is the only way to achieve a lasting peace."
Egypt 'working to restore peace'
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi expressed hope that calm would be restored soon.
Speaking at a military academy event on Saturday, Sisi said his government was trying to play a positive role through contacts with the Palestinian and Israeli sides.
"We are working with our partners to restore peace and stability in the Gaza Strip," he said.
Egypt has traditionally played the role of mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict since it formally recognised Israel in 1979.
Cairo brokered the truce that ended the 11-day war in Gaza last year. The war killed 256 Palestinians, including 66 children, and displaced at least 72,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry.
However, both Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad did not seem close to a ceasefire, as both sides said fighting is expected to continue.
Israel's attack on Gaza has triggered mixed international reactions from the international community.
The UN envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, said he was "deeply concerned" by the escalating violence.
"There can be no justification for any attacks against civilians," said Wennesland following Israel's bombardment.
Meanwhile, Turkey condemned the air strikes, saying it was "unacceptable that civilians, including children, lose their lives in attacks".
"We are deeply concerned about the rising tension in the region after the attacks. We emphasise the need to end these events before they turn into a new spiral of conflict," a foreign ministry statement said.
Pakistan's former prime minister Imran Khan accused Israel of seeking to "subjugate" Palestinians through its massive military power to "eliminate" those who want to stand up for their rights and call for an end to Israeli occupation.
Egypt's Al-Azhar university, one of the highest religious authorities in the Muslim world, also issued a scathing statement condemning the "unreasonable and unacceptable global silence," which allows Israel to continue its "immoral and barbaric violations of human rights, and its repeated attacks against our innocent Palestinian brothers".
The United States affirmed Israel's right to defend itself by striking Gaza.
"We certainly urge all sides to avoid further escalation... We absolutely fully support Israel's right to defend itself against terrorist groups that are taking the lives of innocent civilians in Israel," US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.
Russia, whose ties with Israel have been tested by Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, appeared to pin initial blame on the Israelis.
"We are observing with profound worry how events are evolving," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, adding that Moscow was calling "on all the parties involved to show maximum restraint".
"The new escalation was caused by Israeli army firing into the Gaza Strip on 5 August, to which Palestinian groups responded by carrying out massive and indiscriminate bombardments on Israeli territory," she said.
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss voiced her government's support for Israel.
"The UK stands by Israel and its right to defend itself," she tweeted.
"We condemn terrorist groups firing at civilians and violence which has resulted in casualties on both sides."
Israeli ultra-nationalists plan Al-Aqsa raid
Meanwhile, Israeli ultra-nationalists, including settlers, are planning a large-scale storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque on Sunday, amid Palestinian calls to mobilise at the occupied East Jerusalem site.
The planned storming, organised by far-right groups and in coordination with Israeli forces, will take place between around 7am to 10am local time, then again at 1:30pm, to mark the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'av.
Despite concerns that provocative tours by Israeli settlers in Al-Aqsa Mosque could escalate violence, Israeli police do not intend to stop the planned stormings tomorrow, according to Israeli media.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right Israeli lawmaker notorious for provocative standoffs with Palestinians, is planning to join the raids.
"We cannot surrender to Islamic Jihad – we are the landlords in Israel. The more we feel and act this way, the enemies will get the message," said the MP.
However, the situation could change by Sunday, security sources told the Israeli daily Haaretz.
A friendly match between the football clubs Juventus and Atletico Madrid scheduled for Sunday in Tel Aviv has been cancelled, Spanish media reported.
The two clubs cited security reasons, amid the ongoing hostilities between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip since Friday afternoon.
The match was due to be held at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 7 August.