Israel strikes 2 homes, killing more than 90 Palestinians. Biden says he didn’t request a cease-fire

Dec 23, 2023, 1:31 AM | Updated: 1:14 pm

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — More than 90 Palestinians, including dozens from an extended family, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on two homes in Gaza, rescuers and hospital officials said Saturday, a day after the U.N. chief warned that nowhere is safe in the territory and that Israel’s offensive creates “massive obstacles” to distribution of humanitarian aid.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, calling it a long and private conversation a day after the Biden administration again shielded Israel in the diplomatic arena. On Friday, the U.N. Security Council adopted a watered-down resolution that calls for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza, but not for a cease-fire.

“I did not ask for a cease-fire,” Biden said of the call. Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister “made clear that Israel would continue the war until achieving all its goals.”

Also Saturday, the Israeli military said troops arrested hundreds of alleged militants in Gaza over the past week and transferred more than 200 to Israel for further interrogation, providing rare details on a controversial policy of mass roundups of Palestinian men. The army said more than 700 people with alleged ties to the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have so far been sent to Israeli lockups.

Israel declared war after Hamas gunmen stormed across the border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages. More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s war to destroy Hamas and more than 53,000 have been wounded, according to health officials in Gaza, a besieged territory ruled by the Islamic militant group for the past 16 years.

The Health Ministry in Gaza on Saturday evening said 201 people had been killed over the past 24 hours.

Airstrikes on Friday flattened two homes, including one in Gaza City, where 76 people from the al-Mughrabi family were killed, making the attack one of the deadliest of the war, said Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense department.

Among those killed were Issam al-Mughrabi, a veteran employee of the U.N. Development Program, his wife, and their five children.

“The U.N. and civilians in Gaza are not a target,” said Achim Steiner, the head of the agency. “This war must end.”

And a strike pulverized the home of Mohammed Khalifa, a local TV journalist, killing him and at least 14 others in the urban refugee camp of Nuseirat, according to officials at the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Hospital where the bodies were taken.

Israel blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll, citing the militants’ use of crowded residential areas and tunnels. Israel has launched thousands of airstrikes since Oct. 7, and has largely refrained from commenting on specific attacks.

Israel’s offensive has been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history, displacing nearly 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people and leveling wide swaths of the tiny coastal enclave. More than a half million people in Gaza — a quarter of the population — are starving, according to a report this week from the United Nations and other agencies.

In the southern city of Khan Younis, men walking through the rubble tried to shoo away cats feeding on unclaimed bodies. One man covered a body with a blanket. Another wished to call an ambulance but had no phone signal.

The Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said forces were expanding their offensive in northern and southern Gaza and troops were fighting in “complex areas” in Khan Younis.

The army’s statement on detentions followed earlier Palestinian reports of large-scale roundups of teenage boys and men from homes, shelters and hospitals in northern Gaza where troops have established firmer control. Some of the released detainees have said they were stripped to their underwear, beaten and held for days with minimal water.

Channel 13 in Israel showed new footage of Palestinian men stripped to their underwear and walking in single file, with soldiers nearby. It was not clear when the footage was taken. In response to widespread criticism, the army has said detainees are stripped to check them for weapons. It has denied abuse allegations and said those without links to militants are quickly released.

Hamas called on the International Committee of the Red Cross and other organizations to pressure Israeli authorities to reveal the whereabouts and conditions of people detained.

Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas militants, including about 2,000 in the past three weeks, but has not presented evidence. It says 144 of its soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive.

Following the U.N. resolution, it was not immediately clear how and when aid deliveries would accelerate. Trucks enter through two crossings — Rafah on the border with Egypt and Kerem Shalom on the border with Israel. On Friday, fewer than 100 trucks entered, the U.N. said — far below the daily average of 500 before the war.

Both crossings were closed Saturday by mutual agreement among Israel, Egypt and the U.N., Israeli officials said.

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan criticized the Security Council resolution that called for aid into Gaza without suspending hostilities, calling it “weak” and “insufficient.”

Ahead of the council vote, the U.S. negotiated the removal of language that would have given the U.N. authority to inspect aid going into Gaza, something Israel says it must continue to do itself to ensure material does not reach Hamas.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Friday that it’s a mistake to measure the effectiveness of the humanitarian operation by the number of trucks.

“The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating massive obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid inside Gaza,” he said.

Netanyahu and his government also faced pressure at home, with calls to get the remaining hostages freed. “Bibi, Bibi retire. We don’t want you anymore,” a crowd of thousands chanted in Tel Aviv.


Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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Israel strikes 2 homes, killing more than 90 Palestinians. Biden says he didn’t request a cease-fire