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Israel-Hamas war: 'Nowhere is safe in Gaza,' UN chief warns

Published December 6, 2023last updated December 7, 2023

The head of the UN warned public order could "completely break down soon due to the desperate conditions" in Gaza. Fighting in the city of Khan Younis intensified for a second day. Follow DW for more.

Smoke billowing during an Israeli bombardment in Gaza
The UN chief warned that the Israel-Hamas war could have irreversible implications for peace in the regionImage: Jack Guez/AFP
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • The World Food Program said renewed fighting in the Gaza Strip could undo "desperately needed progress" that was made during the seven-day truce
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with freed hostages and relatives of those still held by Hamas militants in what local media described as a tense meeting
  • US President Joe Biden has called on the world to condemn reports of sexual violence by Hamas militants against Israelis during the October 7 terror attack
  • Israel says its forces are fighting Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis

This live updates article is now closed. For the latest developments in the war between Israel and Hamas, please click here.

Skip next section Sisters of German citizen still being held hostage recount ordeal to DW
December 7, 2023

Sisters of German citizen still being held hostage recount ordeal to DW

DW's Phil Gayle spoke to two sisters — Ofir and Naama Weinberg — whose cousin Itai Svirsky was taken hostage by the Hamas militant group on October 7.

The siblings are in Germany to meet Chancellor Olaf Scholz and highlight the plight of their cousin.

Ofir described how her family witnessed the events of October 7 via a WhatsApp family group and how Itai relayed what was happening with bombs and shooting in the street.

Nothing had been heard from Itai, but that changed after the recent release of some hostages.

"Just a few days ago we got a sign of life from Itai, for the first time after more than fifty days," Naama said. "We got it from one of the hostages that were released and was held with him the whole time and it was that he's alive."

Naama described this as "a big release" for the family because, up until that point, they did not know whether or not he was still alive.

"He is suffering from deep anxiety. He witnessed his mother being murdered before he was taken away," Naama explained.

The sisters said this would be their second meeting with Chancellor Scholz.

"Our expectation from Germany is to treat and handle this case as German citizens that were taken hostage, and to treat it in the same way they would have treated it if it had happened on Germany's land," Naama said.

Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the European Union and the United States.

Israeli Hostages Two Months in Captivity

Skip next section US Senate blocks Israel aid over immigration
December 7, 2023

US Senate blocks Israel aid over immigration

Republican lawmakers in the US Senate have blocked billions of dollars in much-needed military aid to Israel in protest at a lack of US immigration policy reforms.

Republicans had insisted upon the need to increase security at the US-Mexico before providing emergency foreign funds. The block also applied to help for Ukraine.

The largely party-line vote was a blow to President Joe Biden who had warned of the implications that failing to fund both countries could have for regional security and beyond.

Skip next section Netanyahu says Israeli troops surrounding Hamas leader's home
December 6, 2023

Netanyahu says Israeli troops surrounding Hamas leader's home

Israeli forces have surrounded the home of the leader of the militant-Islamist Hamas group in the Gaza Strip, Yehya Sinwar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video address on Wednesday. 

Netanyahu acknowledged that he and the troops were not certain Sinwar was inside the domicile. 

"Yesterday I said that our forces could reach anywhere in the Gaza Strip. Today they are encircling Sinwar's house," he said. "His house may not be his fortress and he can escape, but it's only a matter of time before we find him."

Sinwar's house is reportedly located in Khan Younis, the main city in southern Gaza, where the Israeli military was particularly active on Wednesday, having expanded operations toward and into the southern city in recent days.

Israel believes some leaders of Hamas, which Israel, Germany, the United States and other countries classify as a terrorist organization, might have hunkered down in the south, potentially in Gaza's tunnel network, after the first weeks of fighting centered around Gaza City in the north. 

Sinwar spent more than two decades in Israeli custody after being convicted in 1988 for the murder of four suspected Palestinian collaborators and two Israeli soldiers. 

Archive image of Yehya Sinwar speaking at a 2019 press conference in Gaza City.
Sinwar was born in Khan Younis, the 61-year-old spent much of his younger adult life incarcerated in Israel before his 2011 releaseImage: Ashraf Amra/ZUMAPRESS/picture alliance

In 2011, he was released as one of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. 

In 2017, he became the head of Hamas in Gaza

Skip next section G7 leaders call for further 'humanitarian pauses' in fighting
December 6, 2023

G7 leaders call for further 'humanitarian pauses' in fighting

The leaders of the Group of Seven nations on Wednesday discussed the conflict in a video session and issued an appeal for "urgent action" to mitigate the deteriorating situation for civilians in the Gaza Strip. 

"More urgent action is needed to address the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza and minimize civilian casualties," the G7 leaders said in a joint statement. "We support and encourage further humanitarian pauses to enable this." 

They also called on Iran to refrain from supporting either Hezbollah in Lebanon or Houthi militants in the region, possibly leading to the conflict's spread. In general, they said that "regional actors must cease de-stabilizing activities." 

The G7 leaders also said that while they welcomed "the recent pause" in the conflict that ended last week, "We deeply regret that Hamas refused to release all of the female hostages and military operations have resumed." 

Fighting largely stopped for seven days, punctuated by daily exchanges of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners in Israel before the truce broke on November 30.

Skip next section 'We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system,' UN chief says
December 6, 2023

'We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system,' UN chief says

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written a direct appeal on the situation in Gaza to the UN Security Council, a rare step invoking a little-used article of the UN Charter. 

"We are facing a severe risk of collapse of the humanitarian system. The situation is fast deteriorating into a catastrophe with potentially irreversible implications for Palestinians as a whole and for peace and security in the region," Guterres wrote in a letter to the 15-member Council. 

"Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs," he said.

Guterres invoked, for the first time since he took office in 2017, Article 99 of the UN Charter. This states that "the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security." 

He focused in particular on the difficulties in delivering aid and providing health care to people in the enclave. 

"The current conditions are making it impossible for meaningful humanitarian operations to be conducted," the letter said, adding that "nowhere is safe in Gaza."

He pushed for the establishment of a humanitarian cease-fire.

"With a humanitarian cease-fire, the means of survival can be restored, and humanitarian assistance can be delivered in a safe and timely manner across the Gaza Strip," Guterres wrote.

The Security Council, currently chaired by Ecuador, has held several sessions on the conflict in Gaza since the Islamist-militant Hamas group's October 7 attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people with 240 more taken hostage.

However, with the US and UK both permanent members with veto rights and a typically supportive stance towards Israel, the body has struggled to agree on very far-reaching statements or appeals about the conflict. The United States, like Germany and several other countries, classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization.

In November, after four draft texts were rejected, the Security Council did issue an appeal for "extended humanitarian pauses" in the Gaza Strip, breaking its silence on the conflict weeks after Hamas' attack. 

Skip next section 'There is really no safe place to go in Gaza,' UN official tells DW
December 6, 2023

'There is really no safe place to go in Gaza,' UN official tells DW

UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Palestinian Territories Lynn Hastings told DW on Wednesday that Israel's advice to people in densely populated Gaza to flee to specific and ever-shrinking areas was not reasonable. 

"There is really not safe place to go in Gaza, currently. The offensive in Khan Younis is pushing people further to the southeast into a very, very, very small portion of Gaza," Hastings said. "Of course, this is presenting real problems for us in terms of just logistically moving around with such a packed population in such a small area." 

Hastings said that in many cases, even the designated safe zones did not appear to be safe. 

She said that, according to her own staff in "these so-called deconflicted boxes," people trying to live in the zones indicated as safe "are also coming under fire, and that's why everybody is moving into ever smaller parts of Gaza."

Hastings also argued that Israel's criticism of the UN, showing images of aid waiting at the border to Gaza and saying it's up to the UN to keep up and deliver it, was not fair. She said that the responsibility rests with Israel as "the occupying power" with control over land, air and sea, saying: "Nowhere in the world does the United Nations support an entire population." 

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said late on Tuesday that he had decided to revoke Hastings' residence visa because she had not condemned Hamas or its October 7 attack, saying: "We will no longer be silent in the face of bias of the UN!" 

Skip next section Tents fill under-fire Khan Younis, some flee further south to Rafah
December 6, 2023

Tents fill under-fire Khan Younis, some flee further south to Rafah

Kind in UN-Schulzelt nach israelischen Angriffen in Khan Younis
Image: Ibraheem Abu Mustaf/REUTERS

Aid organizations are warning of unsafe conditions for civilians in Khan Younis as fighting intensifies in Gaza's second city. 

Israel's military had told people in the east of the city either to move west or to head further south towards Rafah, where there is a border crossing to Egypt.

Tents and other temporary accommodations were already a common sight in the city before fighting ramped up there as many people had fled Gaza City in the north for Khan Younis in the first weeks of fighting. 

The head of the UN relief agency for Palestinians (UNRWA), Thomas White, said on social media late on Tuesday that the organization was "handing out our last 300 tents." 

"Thousands living without shelter in the open," White wrote. "Exposure will take lives." 

Others, meanwhile, left Khan Younis on Wednesday and moved south toward Rafah and the Egyptian border. Old cars weighed down with people and belongings could be seen headed out of the city.

Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. In the foreground of the image, an old Mercedes is driving towards the photogragpher, with a large amount of goods on the roof of the car, and also a man sitting on the hood/bonnet/engine cover.
Some in Khan Younis elected to head further south to Rafah and the Egyptian border on Wednesday, filling or often over-filling their vehiclesImage: Mohammed Dahman/AP/picture alliance
Skip next section Israel approves some 1,700 new east Jerusalem settler homes: NGO
December 6, 2023

Israel approves some 1,700 new east Jerusalem settler homes: NGO

The Israeli NGO Peace Now, known for its critical stance on Israeli settlements, has said that the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved plans to build more than 1,700 housing units in the east of the city, including on land located in occupied Palestinian territory.

"The Israeli government continues to undermine any viable two-state solution," Peace Now said. "While the IDF is engaged in the Gaza Strip, and hundreds of Israelis living in border areas in the north and south are uncertain about when they can return to their homes, the governnment is advancing construction beyond the Green Line, further jeopardizing the security of all Israeli residents seeking a hopeful future with secure borders." 

Peace Now said in its press release, published on Wednesday, that approval was granted on November 29. 

"At the end of the discussion, it was decided to approve 1,738 housing units, distributed as follows: 1,230 residential units, 262 special housing units, and 246 small apartment units," the statement said. 

Peace Now said that about half of the planned area was "within the Green Line," referring to the internationally recognized dividing line between Israeli and Palestinian territory, but argued that its "strategic location between the neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa makes it particularly problematic from a political standpoint."

"The plan effectively obstructs the last remaining corridor connecting Palestinian neighborhoods Beit Safafa and Shorafat with the rest of East Jerusalem. This plan poses a significant challenge to the possibility of creating a Palestinian urban continuum in east Jerusalem and obstructs almost every urban connection between Bethlehem and east Jerusalem," the group said.

Bethlehem is the nearest city to east Jerusalem in the West Bank. 

Skip next section Japan's PM urges Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties
December 6, 2023

Japan's PM urges Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday. 

Kishida called on Israel to limit civilian casualties and to "swiftly" calm the situation, the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said.

"Prime Minister Kishida stated continued growth in the number of civilian casualties should be avoided, and that it is important to calm the situation swiftly, minimize civilian casualties and observe international law including international humanitarian law," a Foreign Ministry statement said. 

The Japanese government said Netanyahu had set out Israel's position on its military operation in Gaza without going into further detail. 

Japan and Israel have significantly strengthened bilateral ties since the mid-2010s, thanks in large part to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pushing for closer political and trade ties.

Skip next section UNICEF says allegations of sexual violence must be investigated
December 6, 2023

UNICEF says allegations of sexual violence must be investigated

The head of the United Nations children's agency called allegations of sexual violence committed against women during the  October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel "horrific."

In a post on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell said UNICEF condemns "gender-based violence and all forms of violence against women and girls."

"Survivors must be heard, supported, and provided with care," she wrote. "Allegations must be fully investigated." 

Anger over the accusations of rape and other sexual violence has grown in recent days, and US President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on governments and international organizations to "forcefully condemn the sexual violence of Hamas terrorists without equivocation."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly accused the Palestinian militant group of such acts, said on Tuesday that in a meeting with hostages released by Hamas, he had heard "about cases of sexual abuse and cruel rapes."

Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the EU as well as the US, Germany and other nations. 

Skip next section Erdogan warns Israel not to hunt Hamas on Turkish soil
December 6, 2023

Erdogan warns Israel not to hunt Hamas on Turkish soil

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned Israel that there would be serious consequences if it followed through on a threat to attack Hamas officials on Turkish territory.

"If they dare to take such a step against Turkey, they will pay the price in a way that they will not be able to recover," Erdogan told reporters.

His comments echoed warnings from other Turkish officials in response to the head of Israel's domestic security agency, Shin Bet, who said in an audio recording that his organization is prepared to destroy Hamas "in every place," including in Lebanon, Turkey and Qatar.

Turkey maintains links with the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement. Unlike the US, Israel and the EU, Turkey does not consider the group to be a terrorist organization. 

Erdogan also said his country has petitioned the International Criminal Court for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials to be prosecuted for alleged war crimes in Gaza.

Israel faces challenges in vow to eliminate Hamas

Skip next section UN warns of 'heightened risk' of atrocity crimes in Gaza
December 6, 2023

UN warns of 'heightened risk' of atrocity crimes in Gaza

The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Turk, has warned there is a heightened risk of atrocity crimes in Gaza and urged parties involved to refrain from committing such violations.

"My humanitarian colleagues have described the situation as apocalyptic. In these circumstances, there is a heightened risk of atrocity crimes," Turk told reporters in Geneva.

"Measures need to be taken urgently, both by the parties concerned and by all states, particularly those with influence, to prevent any such crimes," he said.

Turk also called for an urgent cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militant group, which is classified as a terrorist organization by the US, Germany and EU among others. 

"Civilians in Gaza continue to be relentlessly bombarded by Israel and collectively punished," the UN human rights chief said. "Palestinians in Gaza are living in utter, deepening horror."

Skip next section Putin visits UAE, Saudi Arabia for talks
December 6, 2023

Putin visits UAE, Saudi Arabia for talks

United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, right, greets Russian President Vladimir Putin upon his arrival at an international airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi, Vladimir Putin (left) is greeted by the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah bin Zayed Al NahyanImage: Andrei Gordeyev/Sputnik/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russian President Vladimir Putin has arrived in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Russian state media reported.

During his Middle East trip, Putin is expected to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas in his meetings with Gulf leaders.

He is due to hold talks with President Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan in Abu Dhabi before traveling to Saudi Arabia for his first face-to-face meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since October 2019.

The Kremlin said they would discuss energy cooperation, including as part of OPEC+, whose members pump more than 40% of the world's oil.

Other items on the agenda include the situation in Syria and Yemen, broader issues of stability in the Gulf and the war in Ukraine, the Kremlin said.

Skip next section Supplies 'critically low' at Gaza's Al-Aqsa hospital, says MSF
December 6, 2023

Supplies 'critically low' at Gaza's Al-Aqsa hospital, says MSF

Doctors treat injured people including children at Al-Aqsa hospital
According to MSF, Al-Aqsa hospital has been receiving an average of 150-200 war wounded every day since early DecemberImage: Ashraf Amra/Andalou/picture alliance

The aid organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has called for an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip, warning that medical supplies are running out.

The group said fuel and medical supplies at the Al-Aqsa hospital, in the center of the territory, have reached "critically low levels" due to road closures.

"There are 700 patients admitted in the hospital now, with new patients arriving all the time. We are running out of essential supplies to treat them," Marie-Aure Perreaut Revial, MSF emergency coordinator in Gaza, said.

The Al-Aqsa hospital has been receiving on average 150 to 200 war-wounded patients daily since the start of December, MSF said, adding that the lack of medicines and fuel could mean that the hospital would no longer be able to carry out life-saving operations and medical treatment. 

"The siege must be lifted; medical humanitarian supplies and aid must urgently be supplied to the Gaza Strip in its entirety," MSF said on the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter.

Skip next section Fierce clashes in Gaza's south, Israeli forces surround Khan Younis
December 6, 2023

Fierce clashes in Gaza's south, Israeli forces surround Khan Younis

Israel's military bombarded Khan Younis, southern Gaza's main city, in what it said was the heaviest fighting since it began a ground invasion to eliminate Hamas five weeks ago.

Israel said its forces, backed by warplanes, were engaged in fierce battles across Gaza on Wednesday after the military said it had reached the heart of Khan Younis and surrounded the city.

Hamas' armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, said its fighters engaged in clashes with Israeli soldiers. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by the US, Germany and EU among others. 

The Israeli army also said it had struck around 250 "terror targets" in the Gaza Strip over the course of the past 24 hours.

In a statement, the army said troops were "continuing to locate weapons, underground shafts, explosives and additional military infrastructure."

The surge in fighting comes after a truce between Israel and Hamas collapsed last week.

Netanyahu praises Israel's strong offensive throughout Gaza

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