© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: People hold posters depicting Israeli hostages in Gaza during the event “100 days 100 voices” to mark 100 days since the October 7 Hamas attack, calling for their release, in front of the Opera Bastille in Paris, France, January 14, 2024. REUT
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Fadi Shana and Dan Williams
DOHA/GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli forces bombarded targets across Gaza on Monday as Hamas prepared to announce the “fate” of three Israelis taken hostage by the Palestinian militant group three months ago and shown in a video clip at the weekend.
Twelve Palestinians were killed and others wounded in an Israeli airstrike overnight on a house in Gaza City in the north, health officials said, while plumes of smoke rose above the main southern city of Khan Younis shelled by Israeli tanks.
Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Press Agency SAFA reported fierce clashes between Hamas militants and Israeli forces in Khan Younis, while Israeli tank barrages were also reported near the Al-Bureij and Al-Maghazi refugee camps in central Gaza.
Palestinian health officials in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis said later on Monday seven people were killed and others hurt in an Israeli missile strike nearby the medical facility.
In Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, local journalist Doaa El-Baz showed footage of what had once been the street where she lived.
“This whole neighbourhood is destroyed. Not a single house has been spared,” she said, standing before mounds of rubble. “They killed all our dreams here.”
In a statement, the Israeli military said it had killed two Palestinian fighters in an airstrike on their vehicle as it was transporting weapons in Khan Younis, and also raided a Hamas command centre in that city and struck two arms caches.
Separately, two Palestinians carried out coordinated car-rammings in the central Israeli town of Raanana on Monday, killing a woman and injuring 12 other people, police and medical officials said. The two suspects were from the same family in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and at least one of the vehicles used in the attacks had been stolen, police said.
Hamas later linked the incidents to Israeli “crimes”.
“The operation represents a response to crimes conducted by the occupation (Israel). It is further evidence that the conflict with the occupation is expanding,” Sami Abu Zuhri, head of Hamas’ political unit in exile, told Reuters.
Hamas aired video on Sunday showing three Israeli hostages it is holding in Gaza and urged the Israeli government to halt its aerial and ground offensive and bring about their release.
The undated 37-second video of Noa Argamani, 26, Yossi Sharabi, 53, and Itai Svirsky, 38, ended with the caption: “Tomorrow (Monday) we will inform you of their fate.”
On Monday, keeping up the psychological pressure, Hamas released a video clip featuring the faces of the three hostages and the question, “What do you think?” The clip then offers three options, in which all three are killed, “some are killed, some are injured”, or all three are spared. The video ends with the message: “Tonight we will inform you of their fate.”
The three are among some 240 people taken hostage by Islamist Hamas militants during a surprise cross-border rampage into southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Around half of those hostages were released during a short-lived November truce, but Israel says 132 remain in Gaza and that 25 have died in captivity.
The Oct. 7 assault, in which Israel says more than 1,200 people were killed, prompted an aerial and ground blitz by Israeli forces that over 100 days since has turned much of Gaza into a wasteland and killed, health officials say, some 24,100 people and wounded nearly 61,000.
Health officials said 132 were killed in the past 24 hours, suggesting to Palestinians that there has been little let-up in the intensity of Israel’s offensive despite its announcement of a shift to a new, more targeted phase.
Israel’s military has said it will now conduct months of more targeted operations against the leaders and positions of Hamas in the south after an initial all-out offensive centred on clearing the heavily built-up northern end of the Strip.
Almost two million displaced people are sheltering in tents and other temporary accommodation in southern Gaza amid the fighting, and are facing increased risks of starvation and disease due to chronic shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
United Nations agencies renewed their appeal on Monday for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.
“We need unimpeded, safe access to deliver aid and a humanitarian ceasefire to prevent further death and suffering,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), adding that hunger would further harm the sick and make “an already terrible situation catastrophic”.
A video clip circulating on social media showed crowds of people running beside U.N. vehicles on a beach in Gaza City hoping to get some aid. People were then shown carrying away bags of flour. Reuters was able to verify the location shown in the clip but not the date it was filmed.
Fears are growing of a wider conflict in the Middle East.
Pledging solidarity with the people of Gaza, Houthi fighters who control much of Yemen have stepped up attacks on ships in the Red Sea it says are linked to Israel or bound for Israeli ports. These attacks triggered U.S. and British airstrikes on Houthi targets last week that have in turn prompted threats of a “strong” response from the Iran-backed militia.
The group’s chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, told Reuters on Monday that Houthi attacks on shipping would continue until Israel halts its offensive in Gaza and humanitarian aid is allowed to flow freely into the Strip.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said on Monday it had received a report that the port side of a vessel was hit from above by a missile southeast of Yemen’s port of Aden. It advised ships to transit the area with caution.