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Israel says Hamas fired rockets from near Gaza shelters

Mohammad Qeraan stands amid debris from his home in Sawa, Israel, which was destroyed by a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip.  (Marcus Yam)
By Liam Stack, Yara Bayoumy, Aric Toler, Lauren Leatherby and Aaron Boxerman New York Times

Israel accused Hamas on Thursday of firing rockets from what it called “humanitarian zones” in the southern Gaza Strip where thousands of desperate Palestinians have sought refuge, adding to concerns that no place in the battered enclave may be truly safe for civilians.

The Israeli military posted maps, satellite photos and a video that it said showed 14 rockets had been fired toward Israel from several locations, including Al-Mawasi, a barren area where, aid groups said, thousands of people were sheltering in rickety tents made of wood and plastic, with little food, medicine and water.

The military said the rocket fire from those locations was further evidence that Hamas, the armed group that controls Gaza and led the Oct. 7 cross-border attack on southern Israel, “abuses the people of Gaza, utilizing them for its acts of terror.”

Hamas did not immediately respond to Israel’s claims.

The video released by Israel shows what appears to be a rocket-launching position about 109 yards from the edge of a tent city where thousands of civilians have been seeking shelter on the outskirts of Rafah, near the Egyptian border. It is also about 270 yards from the largest logistics base in Gaza used by the United Nations agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

The video does not show rockets being fired but displays the launch site before and after the reported launches. The New York Times could not verify the claim that rockets had been fired from the site.

The area has long been used by Hamas as a training base, and it was used to practice paragliding in the lead-up to the Oct. 7 attacks, according to Hamas video that was geolocated by the Times using satellite imagery. A mock Israeli village used in Hamas’ training exercises lies about 1,000 yards from the rocket launch position, along with firing ranges and other Hamas training infrastructure.

It was not clear whether Israel would now target the area. A military spokesperson, Maj. Nir Dinar, said he could not discuss future operations. Palestinians are being “updated frequently in various ways” about military activities, Dinar said.

The rocket-fire claims added to the growing concerns that there is no safe place in Gaza for the 1.9 million people – about 85% of the population – who have been displaced since the war began.

The number of displaced people in Gaza is now larger than the population of Manhattan and more than four times the population of Tel Aviv, Israel. They have all squeezed into an area that is less than one-third of Gaza’s territory, according to the U.N., and many have recounted deadly strikes in areas they were told would be safe.

The U.N. has opposed the establishment of so-called safe zones in the enclave, on the grounds that no one party to a war can unilaterally declare places completely safe for civilians. Trying to establish such zones in Gaza, U.N. officials said last month, could “create unacceptable harm for civilians, including large-scale loss of life.”

U.N. officials have said that civilians should take shelter in buildings such as schools and hospitals, which are protected under international humanitarian laws, and that Israel should not strike such places.

Israel has accused Hamas of concealing command centers in civilian buildings, including schools and hospitals, and has declared some of them legitimate targets.

A government spokesperson, Eylon Levy, said Thursday that Israeli forces were pressing on with “close-quarter combat” in Khan Younis, the city in southern Gaza where the military believes top Hamas commanders may be hiding.

On Thursday, the Israeli military said that one of at least two soldiers killed in Gaza was the son of Gadi Eisenkot, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war Cabinet. Master Sgt. Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25, was killed in Jabalia, in northern Gaza, the military said.

Nearly 100 soldiers have been killed in the war, according to the Israeli military. More than 15,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the territory’s health officials.

About 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack Oct. 7, Israel says.

Amid a growing outcry over the worsening conditions for civilians in the enclave, the Israeli government said it would allow “a minimal supplement of fuel” into southern Gaza in order “to prevent a humanitarian collapse and the outbreak of epidemics.” It did not specify how much fuel or when the supplies would be allowed in.

“The amount of fuel is something we are assessing with the U.N. agencies,” Col. Elad Goren, an Israeli military official, told reporters Thursday. He said that Israel would adjust the volume of supplies based on needs in Gaza, as long as “there is a full mechanism that we trust that this fuel is not going to Hamas.”

Goren also said that Israel would open a second point to inspect international aid entering Gaza at the Kerem Shalom crossing “in the next few days.” Rafah so far has been the lone crossing point where Israel has conducted inspections.

Martin Griffiths, the chief humanitarian official at the United Nations, said that negotiations underway to open a second inspection site would be “a huge boost” for humanitarian aid deliveries. He said that Israel’s military assault on Gaza had left international efforts to provide that aid in tatters.

“We do not have a humanitarian operation in southern Gaza that can be called by that name anymore,” he said.

Ola Abu Hasaballah, 35, who has been sheltering with her husband and their two young children in Rafah, said she waited in line for food for six hours Thursday morning only to receive a bottle of water, a can of beans and a can of meat.

“The food and water are very rare here,” she said. “I spent all day with a small piece of bread, and that’s it.”

Even as fighting has raged in Gaza, the Israeli military has been trading fire with Iranian-backed militants on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. A Reuters investigation published Thursday said that an Israeli tank crew had killed one of its journalists, Issam Abdallah, and wounded six others in an Oct. 13 strike in Lebanon.

In a statement, the Reuters editor, Alessandra Galloni, called on Israel “to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible.”

Human Rights Watch, which also investigated the strike and blamed the Israeli military, said it appeared to have been a deliberate attack and a war crime. The journalists, it said, were wearing jackets marked “Press” and had a car marked “TV.”

Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to the reports. The military said at the time that there were “a number of launches from Lebanon” but offered no specifics.

At a news conference in Beirut, Abdallah’s mother, Fatemah Qanso Abdallah, said that Reuters’ findings had given her some relief, although she questioned whether there would be any accountability.

“We will keep calling for justice,” she said, but added, “I’m afraid that these killings will be forgotten.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.