• 249 deaths in last 24 hours, death toll nears 23,000
• WHO axes medical aid delivery to Gaza in absence of security guarantees
• Pope says civilians killed in war aren’t ‘collateral damage’
GAZA STRIP: Israel killed a top commander of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement, a security source said on Monday, as Washington’s top diplomat visited the Middle East seeking to avert a widening of the Gaza conflict.
On Monday, the Lebanese group announced the killing of its “commander” for the first time, naming him as Wissam Hassan Tawil.
A security official in Lebanon, requesting anonymity for security reasons, said Tawil “had a leading role in managing Hezbollah’s operations in the south”, and was killed there by an Israeli strike targeting his car.
The Israeli military said it struck Hezbollah “military sites” in Lebanon on Monday, but did not immediately comment on Tawil’s death.
His is the second high-profile killing in Lebanon this month, following a strike in a Beirut stronghold of Hezbollah last week which killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Aruri.
A US Defence Department official has told AFP that Israel carried out the Beirut strike, which has heightened fears of the conflict in Gaza spreading.
Toll nears 23,000
The health ministry in Gaza said it had recorded 249 deaths in the previous 24 hours, dozens of whom arrived along with 99 wounded at Al-Aqsa hospital in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah city. Israel’s relentless bombardment and ground invasion have so far killed at least 22,835 people, most of them women and children, according to the ministry.
The Al-Quds Brigades reported “fierce clashes” on Monday, involving machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, with Israeli troops in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Live AFPTV images showed black smoke over central and southern areas, and the sound of explosions.
Israel’s military reported its forces have “been working in recent days to expand” operations around Khan Yunis and said troops and warplanes struck 30 “significant” targets in the major city overnight Sunday-Monday.
These included underground targets and weapons facilities, it said, adding that a drone also killed 10 in Khan Yunis who were allegedly “preparing to launch rockets toward Israeli territory”.
Islamic Jihad later released a video it claimed showed an Israeli prisoner alive in its custody.
WHO axes aid deliveries
Separately, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it had been compelled to cancel a mission to bring medical supplies to northern Gaza on Sunday after failing to receive security guarantees. It was the fourth time WHO had had to call off a planned mission to bring urgently needed medical supplies to Al-Awda Hospital and the central drug store in northern Gaza since Dec 26, it said.
The WHO has warned of the risk of famine and disease, with only minimal aid entering as people struggle to find water and other necessities.
Pope condemns ‘war crimes’
Pope Francis on Monday condemned “war crimes” perpetrated against civilians in conflicts such as in Gaza and Ukraine, and said those killed should not be considered “collateral damage”.
“The distinction between military and civil objectives is no longer respected,” the 87-year-old pontiff said in his New Year’s address to diplomats at the Vatican.
“We must not forget that grave violations of international humanitarian law are war crimes,” he continued, in a speech dominated by calls for an end to conflicts around the world.
Francis said people “need to realise more clearly that civilian victims are not ‘collateral damage’ but men and woman, with names and surnames, who lose their lives”. The pontiff said Israel’s “strong” military response “has caused an exceptionally grave humanitarian crisis and inconceivable suffering”. “To all the parties involved, I renew my appeal for a ceasefire on every front… and the immediate liberation of all the hostages held in Gaza,” Francis said.
“I ask that the Palestinian people receive humanitarian aid, and that hospitals, schools and places of worship receive all necessary protection,” he added.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2024