- CBC News learns Canadians in Gaza unlikely to leave Thursday.
- Israel says 17 soldiers killed in Gaza in last week.
- Officials hope 400 more can leave Gaza Thursday at Egyptian border.
- UAE’s president offers to treat injured Palestinian children.
- UN human rights office says refugee camp bombings may be war crimes.
- Blinken of U.S. to visit, Biden suggests ‘pause’ needed in Gaza fighting.
Israeli tanks and troops pressed toward Gaza City on Thursday but met fierce resistance from Hamas militants using mortars and hit-and-run attacks from tunnels as the Palestinian death toll from nearly four weeks of bombardments mounted.
At the southern end of the besieged enclave, foreign passport-holders were being allowed out through the Rafah crossing into Egypt.
The war is closing in on the Gaza Strip’s main population centre in the north, where the Islamist group is based and where Israel has been telling people to leave as it vows to annihilate Hamas once and for all.
“We are at the gates of Gaza City,” Israeli military commander Brig.-Gen. Itzik Cohen said.
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Israeli officers have stressed the difficulties of fighting in an urban environment. The strategy appears for now to concentrate large forces in the northern Gaza Strip rather than launch a ground assault on the entire territory.
The Israeli military said on Thursday another soldier had died in the Gaza fighting, bringing the number killed since ground operations were expanded on Friday to 17.
Troops had killed “dozens of terrorists,” it added.
Pressing an offensive against Hamas militants, Israel has bombed Gaza by land, sea and air in its campaign to wipe out the Iran-backed Islamist group after its cross-border attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel said Hamas gunmen killed 1,400 people, including several Canadians, and took more than 220 hostages.
Front Burner28:08A compounding crisis in Gaza
UAE offers to treat Palestinian children
After a total blockade of Gaza for more than three weeks, foreign passport-holders and some severely wounded people were being allowed out. Palestinian border official Wael Abu Mehsen said 400 foreign citizens would leave for Egypt via the Rafah crossing on Thursday, after at least 320 on Wednesday.
Another 60 critically injured Palestinians would also be allowed to leave, Mehsen added.
Canadians are not expected to be part of the list of individuals to leave Gaza today, a government source with direct knowledge of the situation told CBC News. The source asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
A Canadian who worked for an international organization did leave through Rafah on Wednesday, though they were not on the official list of some 450 Canadians in Gaza and West Bank who registered with the Canadian government. Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said earlier it wouldn’t share more information concerning that person due to privacy considerations.
Officials in Ottawa are hopeful some Canadians can begin to leave on Friday, though GAC has previously said it cannot guarantee that every Canadian that wants to leave Gaza will be allowed to, nor could it guarantee the safety and security of those who choose to leave.
The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday it planned to treat 1,000 Palestinian children from Gaza, without saying how they would leave the Israeli-besieged enclave for the Gulf state. UAE state news agency WAM reported President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had directed hospitals to treat children “accompanied by their families” from Gaza.
It was not immediately clear whether those children and their families would be able to leave Gaza under the deal brokered by Qatar at the Rafah crossing, which involved Israel and the United States.
‘I think we need a pause’: Biden
Residents reported mortar fire overnight in areas around Gaza City and said Israeli tanks and bulldozers were sometimes driving over rubble and knocking down structures rather than using regular roads as planes bombed from overhead.
The Gaza health ministry says at least 9,061 Palestinians in the narrow coastal enclave, including 3,760 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes since Oct. 7. The health ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its totals, and the overall death toll includes a disputed total from an Oct. 17 explosion at al-Awli hospital in Gaza.
Brig.-Gen. Iddo Mizrahi, chief of Israel’s military engineers, told Army Radio troops were in a first stage of opening access routes in Gaza.
“This is certainly terrain that is more heavily sown than in the past with minefields and booby-traps,” he said. “Hamas has learned and prepared itself well.”
Israel’s latest strikes this week have included the heavily-populated Jabalia refugee camp. Gaza’s Hamas-run media office said at least 195 Palestinians were killed in the two hits on Tuesday and Wednesday, with 120 missing and at least 777 people hurt.
“It is a massacre,” said one person on the scene as people desperately hunted for trapped victims.
Israel, which accuses Hamas of hiding behind civilians, said it killed two Hamas military leaders in Jabalia.
With Arab nations increasingly vocal in their outrage at Israel’s actions, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also expressed concern that Israel’s “disproportionate attacks … could amount to war crimes.”
Though Western nations and the United States in particular have traditionally supported Israel, harrowing images of bodies in the rubble and the conditions inside Gaza have triggered appeals for restraint and street protests around the world. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is set to arrive Thursday for days of meetings with Israeli and Arab officials, a day after President Joe Biden reiterated the White House position that it supports a “pause” to allow aid deliveries and to buy time to help free hostages.
“I think we need a pause,” Biden said at a Wednesday event in Minneapolis. “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
Desperate conditions at Gaza hospitals
Hospitals, including Gaza’s only cancer hospital, are struggling due to fuel shortages. Israel has refused to let humanitarian convoys bring in fuel, citing concern that Hamas fighters would divert it for military use.
Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said the main power generator at the Indonesian Hospital was no longer functioning.
The hospital was switching to a back-up generator but would no longer be able to power mortuary refrigerators and oxygen generators.
“If we don’t get fuel in the next few days, we will inevitably reach a disaster,” he said.
Violence has also spread to the occupied West Bank, with Israeli military raids to arrest suspected militants touching off confrontations with gunmen and people throwing stones.
Palestinian medics said three teenagers were killed there by Israeli army fire early on Thursday. Israeli military spokespeople had no immediate comment.
Separately, the military and medics said Palestinian gunmen killed an Israeli motorist in the West Bank. There was no immediate claim for that from Palestinian factions.