Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

People walk past a mound of trash and destroyed buildings as smoke rises during an Israeli bombardment in Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2024.-/Getty Images

Israeli troops fought militants across Gaza on Wednesday, including in the southern city of Rafah that had been a refuge for civilians, in an upsurge of the more than seven-month war that has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Antagonism between Israel and the United Nations worsened as the Israeli army sought an explanation for footage showing armed men next to UN Palestinian relief agency vehicles. Separately, the UN said it was investigating an unidentified strike that killed an international staffer in Gaza earlier this week.

India said on Wednesday it was working to repatriate the body of a former Indian Army officer serving as a UN staffer, who was killed in Gaza when his vehicle was hit by what the UN said was tank fire in Rafah where only Israeli tanks are present.

The staffer, Waibhav Anil Kale, was working with the UN Department of Safety and Security and was heading to the European Hospital in Rafah along with a colleague, who was wounded in the incident. The UN said he was the first international UN staffer killed in Gaza since the war began on Oct. 7, taking the total UN death toll to 191.

Palestinians across Middle East mark Nakba with eyes on war in Gaza

UN Secretary General’s deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said on Tuesday the UN had set up a fact-finding panel to determine the responsibility for Kale’s death.

“It’s very early in the investigation, and details of the incident are still being verified with the Israeli Defence Force (IDF),” he told a press conference.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s army has in recent days pressed into the east of Rafah in pursuit of what it says are four Hamas battalions, despite warnings from its ally the U.S. and others to hold off to avoid mass civilian casualties.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel has killed 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, with 82 dead on Tuesday in the highest single day toll for weeks.

Hamas-led gunmen killed some 1,200 people in their initial raid, according to Israeli tallies, and still hold 128 hostages out of 252 they captured in their cross-border raid.

In the northern Jabalia refugee camp, residents said Israeli tanks had destroyed clusters of homes but were facing heavy resistance. “They are bombing houses on top of their inhabitants. We know of many families being trapped inside their homes,” said Abu Jehad.

Hamas ally Islamic Jihad said it killed some foot soldiers in Jabalia, while Israel’s military said it had eliminated “a large number of terrorists” in the camp, which it had claimed to have cleared months ago.

In Rafah, where more than 1 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million people had fled from fighting elsewhere, residents said Palestinian gunmen were trying to prevent Israeli soldiers and tanks pushing toward the centre.

Netanyahu fends off criticism at home and abroad over lack of post-war plan for Gaza

Israel said its troops targeted a training compound in the city’s east, killing militants in close-quarters combat and finding large amounts of weapons.

Israel reported one death in south Gaza which public broadcaster Kan said was the first such fatality since the start of a ground operation there last week. Over the past day, aircraft hit about 80 militant targets, Israel’s military said.

Israel said its troops had identified fighters in the central logistics compound of the UN Palestinian relief agency UNRWA east of Rafah, demanding an explanation. Reuters verified the location of the footage released by the Israeli army but could not verify when it was filmed or the identity of the men.

“The UN has in part become a terrorist entity in itself because it co-operates with Hamas and covers for it,” Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

UNRWA has denied allegations of co-operating with Hamas.

The agency said it was examining the footage and would share information when possible. Senior Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the men were there to protect aid distribution.

“These are false allegations and lies. This is a police force tasked with securing aid centres against acts of theft and looting,” Abu Zuhri told Reuters.

Separately, the UN said it was investigating an unidentified strike on a car in Rafah earlier this week that killed its first international staff member since Oct. 7, a retired Indian army officer who had been en route to the European Hospital.

Some 254 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war began, according to the UN.

UNRWA estimates that 450,000 civilians have fled Rafah in the week since Israel told them to evacuate. But they have few safe places to go.

“Despite catastrophic humanitarian needs, access restrictions & lack of safe passage obstruct efforts of humanitarian organizations to reach people across the Gaza Strip,” it said on X.

The UN has warned of imminent famine in Gaza and repeatedly accused Israel of disregarding civilians and shooting at humanitarian convoys.

As the fighting intensifies, ceasefire talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt are at a stalemate, with Hamas demanding a permanent end to Israeli attacks and Netanyahu’s government saying it will not stop until the group is annihilated.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Israel needs a clear and concrete plan for the future of Gaza where it faces the potential for a power vacuum that could become filled by chaos.

The remarks drew an apparent Israeli riposte, with Netanyahu saying post-war planning was impossible without first completing the demolition of Hamas.

Washington and Israel agree that Hamas cannot continue to run Gaza after the Palestinian Islamist group’s gunmen ignited the conflict with a cross-border killing and kidnapping spree last October.

But the allies are at odds over Israel’s quest for “total victory” over Hamas, including in the southern city of Rafah, where the United States has warned against any major operation that might endanger displaced Palestinians massing there.

“We do not support and will not support an Israeli occupation. We also of course, do not support Hamas governance in Gaza ... We’ve seen where that’s led all too many times for the people of Gaza and for Israel. And we also can’t have anarchy and a vacuum that’s likely to be filled by chaos,” Blinken said during a press conference in Kyiv.

The U.S. top diplomat has held numerous rounds of talks with Israel’s Arab neighbours on a post-war plan for Gaza. Israel says it intends to keep overall security control and has balked at proposals for the Palestinian Authority (PA), which wields limited rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to take charge.

“It’s imperative that Israel also do this work and focus on what the future can and must be,” Blinken said. “There needs to be a clear and concrete plan, and we look to Israel to come forward with its ideas.”

In a statement, Netanyahu appeared to push back against the criticism, though he did not refer directly to Blinken.

Israel, he said, has sought out Palestinians not aligned with Hamas to take charge of local civic management in Gaza - only to see them deterred by threats of Hamas retaliation.

“All the talk about ‘the day after’, while Hamas remains intact, will remain mere words devoid of content,” Netanyahu said. “Contrary to what is being claimed, for months we have been engaged in various efforts to resolve this complex problem. Some of the efforts are covert and it is good that this is so.”

Citing widespread support among Palestinians for the Oct. 7 attack, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to the PA: “We will not allow them to establish a terrorist state from which they will be able to vigorously attack us.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe