Air strikes hit refugee camps in Gaza as US approves new weapons sales to Israel

Israeli planes have struck two urban refugee camps in central Gaza, as the Biden administration approved a new emergency weapons sale to Israel despite persistent international calls for a ceasefire amid mounting civilian deaths, hunger and mass displacement.

Residents in the camps of Nuseirat and Bureij reported Israeli strikes overnight and into Saturday.

Nuseirat resident Mustafa Abu Wawee said a strike hit the home of one of his relatives, killing two people.

A second strike late on Friday in Nuseirat targeted the home of a journalist for Al-Quds TV, a channel linked to the Islamic Jihad group whose militants participated in the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7.

The channel said the journalist, Jaber Abu Hadros and six members of his family were killed.

With Israeli forces pushing deeper into Khan Younis and the camps of central Gaza, tens of thousands of Palestinians have streamed into the already crowded city of Rafah at the southernmost end of Gaza in recent days.

Drone footage showed a vast camp of thousands of tents and makeshift shacks on what had been empty land on Rafah’s western outskirts next to UN warehouses.

People arrived in Rafah in trucks, in carts and on foot. Those who did not find space in the already overwhelmed shelters put up tents on roadsides slick with mud from winter rains.

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Thousands of tents used by displaced people in Rafah (AP)

It was the second time this month that the Biden administration bypassed Congress to approve an emergency weapons sale to Israel.

The department cited the “urgency of Israel’s defensive needs” as a reason for the approval, and said: “It is vital to US national interests to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the threats it faces.”

Israel says it is determined to pursue its unprecedented air and ground offensive until it has dismantled Hamas, a goal viewed by some as unattainable because of the militant group’s deep roots in Palestinian society. The US has shielded Israel diplomatically and has continued to supply weapons.

Israel argues that ending the war now would mean victory for Hamas, a stance shared by the Biden administration which at the same time urged Israel to do more to avoid harm to Palestinian civilians.

The war has displaced 85% of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million residents, sending people fleeing to Israeli-designated safe areas that the military has nevertheless also bombed.

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden (Evan Vucci/AP)

Officials said the aid entering Gaza remains woefully inadequate. Distribution is hampered by long delays at two border crossings, ongoing fighting, Israeli air strikes, repeated cuts in internet and phone services and a breakdown of law and order that makes it difficult to secure aid convoys, they said.

Nearly the entire population is fully dependent on outside humanitarian aid, said Philippe Lazzarini, head of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

A quarter of the population is starving because too few trucks enter with food, medicine, fuel and other supplies — sometimes fewer than 100 trucks a day, according to UN daily reports.

UN monitors said operations at the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing halted for four days this week because of security incidents, such as a drone strike and the seizing of aid by desperate Gaza residents.

They said the crossing reopened on Friday, and 81 aid trucks entered Gaza through Kerem Shalom and the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border — a fraction of the typical pre-war volume of 500 trucks a day.

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Humanitarian aid trucks enter through the Kerem Shalom crossing (Hatem Ali/AP)

The Health Ministry in Gaza said on Saturday that the Palestinian death toll since the start of the war has risen to 21,672, with another 56,165 wounded. Over the past 24 hours, 165 people were killed, said ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian deaths and injuries, saying the militants embed themselves within civilian infrastructure.

Israeli officials have vowed to bring back more than 100 hostages still held by the militants after the October 7 attack that triggered the war. The assault killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

The military says 170 of its soldiers have been killed since the ground offensive began.

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