Gaza fighting enters second day after collapse of truce

Palestinians evacuate wounded in Israeli bombardment Rafah, Gaza Strip, December 1, 2023. [AP photo]

Renewed fighting in Gaza entered a second day after the collapse of a weeklong truce between Israel and Hamas.

Saturday's violence came a day after Israeli airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave killed 184 people, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

In Syria, the Defense Ministry said Israel carried out airstrikes near Damascus early Saturday. Syrian state media reported that military defenses shot down most of the Israeli missiles. It said there were no reports of casualties.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Friday that Israel has begun to take steps to reduce Palestinian casualties in its fight against Hamas.

"We saw Israel take steps immediately today, to start to get information to people about where safe areas are, how they can get out of harm's way," he said in Dubai on the sidelines of the COP28 climate change conference.

However, Blinken said it was too early to say whether Israel had fully followed through on commitments it had made to ensure its military operation in southern Gaza does not lead to the same high death tolls seen in northern Gaza.

Israel's airstrikes and ground invasion in Gaza, aimed at eradicating Hamas, have left more than 15,000 people dead and thousands more injured, according to Palestinian health authorities.

While in Dubai, Blinken met with his counterparts from Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and Bahrain, along with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

Blinken is on his third trip to the Middle East since Israel declared war against Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, after it launched terror attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and abducting an estimated 240, about 100 of whom have been released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners during the just-ended seven-day truce.

Israeli soldiers embrace next to photos of people killed and taken captive by Hamas militants Oct. 7, near kibbutz Re'im, December 1, 2023. [AP photo]

The talks with Arab foreign ministers centered on the state of the Israel-Hamas war and how to deliver more humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, Blinken told reporters before boarding a flight back to Washington.

He said they also talked about "what happens the day after in Gaza and how we can get on the path to a just, lasting and secure peace for Israelis and Palestinians, in fact for everyone in the region."

During Friday's fighting, Israel's military said, its ground, air and naval forces had struck more than 200 of what it called terror targets in the enclave.

Khan Younis in southern Gaza was heavily bombed Friday, sending residents fleeing for shelter farther west, according to Reuters journalists there.

The U.N. said the fighting would exacerbate an acute humanitarian emergency.

"Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza," said Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva.

"Today those in power decided that the killing of children would recommence in Gaza," UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said via video link from Rafah, Gaza, calling the conflict a "war on children."

Elder stressed the dire lack of nutrition, water and sanitation in Gaza and pleaded for a lasting cease-fire. He said the alternative is unthinkable for people already living in a nightmare.

"Inaction, at its core, is an approval of the killing of children," he said.

Meanwhile, Israel has presented some of its neighboring states with plans to carve out a buffer zone on the Palestinian side of Gaza's border with Israel to avert future attacks after the war ends, Reuters reported citing Egyptian and regional sources.

Israel has communicated its post-war plans to Egypt and Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey as part of its future security goals for Gaza, sources told the news agency.