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Israeli Forces Have Destroyed Nearly 400 Schools and Universities in Gaza: Hamas

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Palestinians look at a mosque destroyed in an Israeli strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2024. (AP/Fatima Shbair)
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Israel’s prosecution of its war against Hamas is crippling Palestinian schools and universities in Gaza.

Last week, Al-Israa University said that Israeli forces blew up its main campus outside Gaza City.

Video footage circulating online, apparently taken by a drone, showed the complex of buildings, about 8 kilometers (5 miles) south of Gaza City, being blown up in what appeared to be a controlled explosion, engulfing it in smoke. The extent of destruction could not be seen.

The university, a private institution founded in 2014, said in a statement that its main buildings for graduate studies and bachelor’s colleges were destroyed. It said Israeli forces seized the complex 70 days ago and used it as a base. It was unclear when the explosion took place.

Israel’s military said the Al-Israa University explosion was under review, and asserted that preliminary findings indicated Hamas had used the compound for military purposes.

According to Hamas, Israeli forces have destroyed more than 390 schools, universities, and educational institutions across Gaza since the war began.

Is a Cease-Fire Coming?

Efforts to reach a new cease-fire between Israel and Hamas appear to be gaining steam.

Egyptian and U.S. officials confirmed this week that they are actively pursuing ways to halt a war that has raged for over 110 days. An Egyptian official said that Israel has presented a proposal for a pause in fighting, while the White House said it dispatched a senior envoy to the region for consultations with Egypt and Qatar.

Any deal would have to include a pause in fighting, an exchange of hostages held by Hamas for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel and large quantities of desperately needed humanitarian assistance for the war-battered Gaza Strip.

However, finding a formula acceptable to both sides has been elusive. The gaps between Israel and Hamas remain wide, and the chances of an agreement anytime soon still appear slim.

“There are contacts all the time but they have not yielded results,” said an Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing behind-the-scenes negotiations. “There is a long road ahead.”

Deadly Battle Near Gaza’s Main Hospital

Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants Wednesday near the main hospital in Gaza’s second-largest city, where medics said hundreds of patients and thousands of displaced people were trapped by the fighting.

Israel has ordered residents to leave a swath of downtown Khan Younis that includes Nasser Hospital and two smaller medical facilities as the country pushes ahead with its 3-month-old offensive against Hamas. The United Nations humanitarian office said the area was home to 88,000 Palestinians and was hosting another 425,000 displaced by fighting elsewhere.

But the aid group Doctors Without Borders said fleeing was not an option for many. It said its staff was trapped inside Nasser with some 850 patients and thousands of displaced people because the surrounding roads were inaccessible or too dangerous.

The hospital is one of only two in southern Gaza that can still treat critically ill patients, the group said. Gaza’s Health Ministry also said the facility had been isolated.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead with the offensive until “complete victory” against Hamas, which started the war with its Oct. 7 assault across the border, killing some 1,200 people in Israel and abducting another 250.

Fighting in Khan Younis and Beyond

The Israeli military said its forces were battling militants inside Khan Younis after encircling it a day earlier. Military officials said aircraft were striking targets as part of the operations there and had also targeted suspected militants in central and northern Gaza.

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said nine people were killed when a U.N. training center in Khan Younis where 800 people were sheltering was struck by tank rounds, according to the agency’s Gaza director, Thomas White. The number of deaths was likely to climb, Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the agency known as UNRWA, wrote on the X platform.

The agency said the same site was also hit earlier this week, killing six. The Israeli military had no immediate comment. Israel says Hamas militants operate in the area of U.N. facilities, as well as in other civilian structures.

Thousands of people fled south Tuesday from Khan Younis toward the town of Rafah. The U.N. says some 1.5 million people — around two-thirds of Gaza’s population — are crowded into shelters and tent camps in and around Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt.

Even there, Palestinians have found little safety, with Israel regularly carrying out strikes in and around the town. At least five people were killed when a strike hit a mosque Wednesday in Rafah, according to Associated Press journalists who viewed the bodies at a nearby hospital.

Israelis Divided Over War Aims

In addition to defeating Hamas, Netanyahu says Israel is also committed to returning the over 100 hostages that remain in captivity after most of the others were freed during a November cease-fire.

But many Israelis, including at least one member of Netanyahu’s War Cabinet, say that’s impossible without reaching another agreement with Hamas. And the militant group says it won’t release any more hostages until Israel ends its offensive.

Egypt and Qatar are working on a new agreement, and the White House’s Middle East envoy, Brett McGurk, was in Doha on Wednesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. The visit came a day after McGurk met with officials in Egypt in hopes of establishing a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas.

But officials say the gap between the two sides is still wide.

Buffer Zone in Gaza?

Hamas is still attacking Israeli forces, even in some of the most devastated areas, and firing rockets into Israel. An attack Monday near the border killed 21 Israeli soldiers as they were preparing explosives for a controlled demolition. It was the military’s biggest loss of life in a single attack since Oct. 7.

Israeli media said the troops were working to create an informal buffer zone about a kilometer (half a mile) wide along the border to prevent militants from attacking Israeli communities near Gaza. Two TV channels ran footage showing what appeared to be a controlled demolition of several structures near the border, which the broadcasters said was done in the area of the attack.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC taken last Saturday — before the attack — appeared to show the uniform destruction of buildings and agricultural fields in the area.

Military spokespeople have not used the term “buffer zone,” but say troops are uprooting militant infrastructure near the border to provide security for Israeli communities on the other side.

The United States, which has provided essential military and diplomatic support for the offensive, has said it is opposed to any attempt by Israel to shrink Gaza’s territory.

But President Joe Biden’s administration has also urged Israel to scale back military operations and facilitate the delivery of more aid — with limited success. Netanyahu has outright rejected calls from the U.S. and much of the international community for postwar plans that include the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

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