The war in Lebanon, which began one day after the conflict in Gaza, looks and sounds like a militarised version of hide and seek.
The Israelis spy from their towering observation posts which dominate the “Blue Line” separating the two countries. The motorised whine of Israel’s drones provides a constant reminder of their presence.
Every attack is met with a reciprocal response. Hezbollah’s rockets follow Israeli artillery fire. Israeli air strikes follow the militants’ anti-tank missiles.
However, the two sides are not seeking to annihilate each other – or advance into each other’s territory – at least for the time being. Instead, each strike is like a statement of intent, an example of the deadly possibilities.
At the rim of this simmering volcano stands another party that has been attempting to keep the peace on the Lebanese frontier since 1978.
It is called the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) – a multi-national force charged with monitoring and deterring hostile acts.
A detachment of 550 Irish soldiers play a key role in UNIFIL’s mission and Sky News met their commander at “Camp Shamrock”, some 20 minutes or so from the Blue Line.
Lieutenant-Colonel Cathal Keohane told us that recent fighting at the border has been deeply worrying.
“It is fair to say that this is the most fraught period of time in the last 20 years for us.
“While initially in the first few weeks (after 8 October) it was very localised to the Blue Line, more lately, it has escalated, (the attacks are) moving deeper into Lebanon.
“There are a wider range of weapons with great lethality being used by both sides.”
“This is what you are seeing?” I asked.
“This is our observation, and our concern is… that at the top of [the] ladder is all out war and our concern is that we are progressing towards that.”
The Irish operate two isolated outposts on the line separating Lebanon and Israel, and Sky News was taken to visit one of these posts in the back of an armoured personnel carrier – the first journalists to travel to the border with UNIFIL since the conflict began.
These posts now find themselves situated at the heart of the battle zone with hostile fire from both sides landing perilously close.
One soldier showed us pictures of a position enveloped by smoke generated by white phosphorous bombs that had been dropped nearby.
The battalion commander did not want to comment on the use of white phosphorous in this conflict but local residents, as well as the Lebanese Minister of Health, Firass Abiad, told Sky News that the Israelis have destroyed thousands of acres of olive trees – and injured dozens of people – with this incendiary weapon.
The use of white phosphorous is governed by the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which prohibits the use of airdropped incendiaries within “concentrations of civilians.” Lebanon has acceded to the protocol – Israel has not.
I asked the soldier in charge of one of Ireland’s Blue Line outposts, Lieutenant Dylan Cadogan, whether it was frustrating monitoring a war without having the authority to subdue it.
“It can be frustrating but our mission here is peacekeeping, we can’t enforce peace upon anyone, it has to be wanted on both sides.”
In many ways, UNIFIL’s limited mission in southern Lebanon represents the problems and limitations of the organisation they represent.
The UN has repeatedly failed to reach a united front on the conflict in Gaza with the Security Council reflecting deep divisions on a humanitarian ceasefire and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank.
I asked Battalion Commander Keohane whether he could simply tell the militants and the Israelis to stop – but he said he did not have the mandate.
“A peacekeeping force goes in when both parties are seeking peace and you are there to monitor, report and provide an impartial witness to what is going on,” he said.
“There are peace enforcement missions but that is a different thing entirely, they are structured differently, they are equipped differently and that is not what UNIFIL is…”
An “enforcement mission” would require a level of agreement at the Security Council that is currently unimaginable.
In the meantime, this band of Irish soldiers positioned on the Blue Line will monitor and report and assist in any way they can.
Gaza: Decomposing bodies of babies ‘seen in footage’ from abandoned children’s hospital
A video taken in an abandoned Gaza hospital appears to show the decomposing bodies of babies who were left behind during evacuations.
The paediatric intensive care unit at al Nasr children’s hospital was evacuated around 10 November as the Israeli military continued its ground invasion into northern Gaza and called for people to leave the area.
Follow live: UK launching surveillance flights over Gaza
During the week-long ceasefire, Mohammed Baalousha, a journalist with the Emirati TV channel Al Mashhad, entered the building where he found the bodies of several infants who had to be left in their beds while others escaped.
Warning: This article contains graphic content
Filmed around two weeks after the hospital was emptied, footage from the channel appeared to show at least three of five dead infants, according to Sky News’ US partner site NBC.
Their bodies were decaying, including one that had insects appearing to crawl over its chest.
All are near catheters and ventilators and one infant appeared to still be connected to a machine that measures the oxygen levels in blood, with tanks of the gas nearby, NBC reported.
The advanced stages of decomposition of the infants are consistent with the timeframe between them being abandoned and the date the video was shot, two independent forensic pathologists told NBC.
The US broadcaster was unable to verify the status of the infants within this two-week period.
Dr Mustafa al Kahlot, director of the hospital, said staff concluded they could not safely evacuate five babies, several of whom were premature and “on oxygen machines” when Israeli tanks encircled the facility.
“Our evacuation from al Nasr hospital was very difficult and under fire,” he told NBC News. “Children cannot be carried by hand or evacuated without oxygen equipment.”
In footage taken before the evacuation, Dr al Kahlot is seen in the same hospital room, warning that the building was the target of bombings, and that one child had already died due to a “lack of oxygen”.
A similar situation was faced at al Shifa hospital – one of Gaza’s largest – which came under intense bombardment by Israeli forces.
A group of 28 premature babies who were described as having “serious infections” were transported from Gaza to a hospital in Egypt, where they continued to receive treatment.
One nurse, who works with the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was voluntarily working at al Nasr hospital at the time it was evacuated.
‘We only took one baby’
An audio recording he took on 10 November described a “sniper shooting” making it impossible for anyone to leave or move from the building, NBC reported.
“Five patients remained in the intensive care unit on the oxygen machine,” he is heard saying in the recording. “We left them. We only took one baby.”
“We had to leave patients on the beds. We could not take any patient with us,” the same nurse said in a separate video taken within this timeframe and seen by NBC.
Ashraf al Qudra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry, said medical teams could not evacuate the five children by hand as there must be “health standards for transporting them”.
He told NBC that he blamed the Israeli military for the infants’ deaths.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was not involved in any evacuation operations, despite receiving “several requests” for help from hospitals in northern Gaza.
“Footage circulating of deceased newborn babies represents an unspeakable tragedy, an unacceptable reality of how civilians – including babies and children – pay the price in conflict,” the ICRC said in a statement.
In response to the claims, the Israel Defence Forces said “it did not operate inside the al Nasr hospital,” and that “these allegations are not only false but also a perverse exploitation of innocent lives, used as tools to spread dangerous misinformation”.
“This is more evident when taking into account that the IDF assisted in moving newborns from the pediatric ward of the Shifa hospital to safety, as well as provide Israeli incubators in the process,” the statement added.
Israel-Hamas war: Israel divides Gaza into numbered blocks telling Palestinians to move before bombings begin
Israel’s determination to completely dismantle Hamas means that takeover of the south is an absolute military necessity.
The southern campaign has already started, with air raids in and around the city of Khan Younis fully underway.
The problem is that, to all intents and purposes, most of the surviving Gazan population is now crowded into the south already.
Many had moved south from towns or cities like Gaza City, and have been told by Israeli defence forces they need to move again, further south, to the Rafah Crossing area that borders Egypt, or to the barren coastal strip of al Mawasi.
Under the Israeli plan to ensure people move as safely as possible, they have divided Gaza into numbered blocks, and people living there, in theory, will be told when to move before bombings begin.
How long they will have to comply is unknown.
Leaflets have been dropped with a QR code linked to an interactive map with the numbered districts marked on it.
By any metric, to assume people now displaced, living rough, scared and disorientated, and unlikely to have internet when they don’t have food or water, could navigate the map would seem a bit of a stretch.
Sky News teams in Gaza met Muhamed Rayis holding the leaflet with the QR code on it. He says he followed the instructions, moved to a safe area, and then got bombed.
“Look at this is the leaflet. How can you bomb civilians in their homes? You’re telling people that Wadi Alsalga is safe, how come then you bomb there, at least warn us before you bomb us, they have bombed 3 or 4 houses, they’ve displaced people, why?”
‘We do not know where to go’
“We do not know where to go, because they have told us the central area is safe, and we came here and now they started to bomb us here too, so we do not know where to go. This is their leaflet!” he shouted.
What we have seen from our daily feed of pictures from our teams inside Gaza illustrates just how difficult and dangerous living in the south has become – and how difficult it will be for the IDF to complete its operation without killing further large numbers of civilians.
In a smoky haze in Khan Younis, our teams filmed as people tried to move during a break in the aerial bombardment.
They pick their way through what is now a battlefield from the north to the south of the Strip.
Donkey-drawn carts navigate their way around rubble and battle-scarred roads, while a steady stream of people move on foot. But there is little sanctuary to be found in Gaza.
Another set of pictures, scenes that have become all too familiar, show people heading into the rubble searching for the living and the dead.
It’s a constant, just like the airstrikes.
At the Nasser Medical Complex, a survivor dazed and covered in dust makes his way inside.
This man and a little boy alongside are told to sit on the floor in one ward, before being treated for their wounds.
They’re among the luckiest of the injured as their injuries aren’t severe, but their faces are a picture of pure trauma and shock, and that doesn’t just go away.
The more seriously injured are rushed through the crowds, bundled into cars, and taken to the emergency room.
The hospitals that are still functioning in Gaza can barely cope, while the numbers of dead rise every day.
Situation is ‘catastrophically bad’
The Hamas-controlled health ministry says 70% of fatalities are women and children.
Doctor Nuradin Khatib is a junior doctor at the Nasser Hospital and he says it is a disaster.
“The pressure on the hospital with the number of patients and injuries has doubled,” he said.
“The situation is catastrophically bad, there are no beds for the patients, we have to treat the patients on the hospital floor as there are no beds to put them on, people are short of everything.”
“In all honesty the situation is extremely bad, the huge number of the injured as well the other patients who have long-term illnesses in all departments, it is beyond our power,” he added.
Aid supplies were initially stopped after the ceasefire ended but appear to have resumed as some aid has entered Gaza -though it’s a trickle, and nowhere near enough.
The IDF’s operations continue in the north and are developing in the south, and their campaign to oust Hamas continues.
The biggest concern though for the international community is what happens to all the civilians who are not sure where to go to find safety.
Many people in and around Khan Younis in the south have come from the north, and are having to move yet again.
In reality though, there’s not much further south they can go.
UK to conduct surveillance flights over Israel and Gaza to help find hostages held by Hamas
The UK will conduct surveillance flights over Israel and Gaza as part of hostage rescue efforts.
The Ministry of Defence said the surveillance aircraft “will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages”.
“Only information relating to hostage rescue will be passed to the relevant authorities responsible for hostage rescue,” the ministry said in a statement.
The flights will take place over the eastern Mediterranean, including operating in air space over Israel and Gaza.
The MoD said the UK government had been “working with partners across the region to secure the release of hostages, including British nationals, who have been kidnapped” since the Hamas attacks on 7 October.
“The safety of British nationals is our utmost priority,” it said.
UK military was deployed to the eastern Mediterranean the week after the 7 October attacks, with RAF aircraft and Royal Navy ships sent to the region.
That was bolstered last week with the UK saying it would send one of its most lethal warships to the Gulf to deter growing threats to shipping from Iran and Iranian-backed groups.
The MoD’s announcement came as US vice president Kamala Harris called on Israel to do more to protect civilians.
She reiterated America’s stance that Israel has a legitimate military objective against Hamas, but said “too many innocent Palestinians have been killed”.
“Frankly, the scale of civilian suffering, and the images and videos coming from Gaza are devastating.”
Ms Harris was speaking at COP28 in Dubai, where she also laid out broad American objectives for when the war ends.
She told the Egyptian president that “under no circumstances will the United States permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank, the besiegement of Gaza, or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza”, the White House said in a statement.
Appeals from the US to protect civilians followed the resumption of fighting on Friday as a seven-day truce came to an end.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s troops had spent the ceasefire preparing for “absolute victory”.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, he said he had instructed the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) to resume the war with “increasing intensity”.
He said 400 Hamas targets had been “eliminated” since the ceasefire ended. He vowed to continue ground operations, saying Israel’s objective of destroying Hamas could not be achieved otherwise.
Strikes have intensified in the south of Gaza, which is now home to most of the strip’s two million citizens.
The Hamas-led Gaza health ministry said at least 193 Palestinians had been killed since Friday, adding to the more
than 15,000 Palestinian dead since the start of the war.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said rockets were fired into southern Israel.
There were no reports of damage or injuries by Saturday night.
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