Israel bombed the densely-populated Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza for the second time in two days Wednesday, prompting warnings of war crimes as more nations took diplomatic measures and condemned Israel’s offensive in the besieged enclave.
It also came as the first sanctioned exodus from the besieged enclave in weeks began, with injured Palestinians and hundreds of foreign nationals crossing from Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing. More civilians are expected to cross on Thursday.
The massive second strike on Jabalya created further catastrophic damage, destroying several buildings in the Falluja neighborhood of the camp, with video from the site showing a deep crater and people digging through the rubble searching for bodies.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the Wednesday attack targeted a Hamas command and control complex and “eliminated” Hamas terrorists “based on precise intelligence.”
“Hamas deliberately builds its terror infrastructure under, around and within civilian buildings, intentionally endangering Gazan civilians,” the IDF added in a statement.
The airstrike came a day after Israeli jets hit the camp in an area near Falluja on Tuesday, killing or injuring hundreds of people according to medics and triggering fresh outcry over spiraling civilian casualties in Gaza.
Survivors and eyewitnesses spoke of apocalyptic scenes in the aftermath of Tuesday’s strike, with one eyewitness saying “It felt like the end of the world.”
The IDF said the first strike killed several Hamas members, including Ibrahim Biari, whom it described as one of the Hamas commanders responsible for the October 7 attack on Israel, in which more than 1,400 people were killed and hundreds taken hostage. Hamas, however, strongly denied the presence of one of its leaders in the refugee camp.
The United Nations Human Rights Office said on social media that the attacks on Jabalya, which is Gaza’s largest refugee camp, “could amount to war crimes” given “the high number of civilian casualties and the scale of destruction.”
The devastation wrought by the strikes, which are part of Israel’s expanded offensive in Gaza, appeared to be a tipping point in the war for a number of countries who responded with diplomatic measures in condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis.
Jordan on Wednesday became the latest country to recall its ambassador to Israel, following Chile and Colombia, due to the strikes on Gaza. Bolivia on Tuesday cut its diplomatic relations with Israel citing “crimes against humanity committed against the Palestinian people.”
The strikes continue amid increasingly urgent calls for a ceasefire by the UN and aid organizations, and despite a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution backed by over 100 countries calling for a “sustained humanitarian truce.”
New strikes, a hospital goes dark
A barrage of new explosions was seen over Gaza City – the largest urban center in the enclave – in the early hours of Thursday, a live camera feed from AFP showed.
IDF commander Brigadier General Itzik Cohen said Wednesday that the Israeli military is “at the gates of Gaza City.” And IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari claimed Israeli forces had breached Hamas’ defensive frontline in northern Gaza and is expanding its fighting into the strip.
On Thursday, the IDF announced the death of another soldier who was killed in Gaza on Wednesday. The total number of Israeli soldiers to have died since the start of the ground incursion is now 17. Of that figure, 16 were killed inside Gaza.
The scale of the tragedy for the more than 2 million people, half of them children, trapped inside the war-torn enclave is “unprecedented,” the head of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency said following a brief trip to Gaza Wednesday.
“Everyone was just asking for water and food. Instead of being at school, learning, children were asking for a sip of water and a piece of bread. It was heart wrenching. Above all, people were asking for a ceasefire. They want this tragedy to end,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Nearly half of all hospitals in Gaza are out of service due to bombardments and fuel shortages, including the leading cancer hospital in the strip, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah. It warned Gaza’s largest hospital Al Shifa would be forced to stop operating in less than a day.
On Wednesday, injured Palestinians and hundreds of foreign nationals started crossing from Gaza into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing.
Heading into Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Wednesday were 55 humanitarian aid trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent containing food, water, medicines and medical supplies. A total of 272 aid trucks have crossed into Gaza so far – a drop in the ocean of the assistance needed – but no fuel has been allowed to enter, it said.
This story is developing and is being updated.