Israel restores water to southern Gaza, US evacuating citizens from Israel by boat as ground war looms

By Philissa Cramer

(JTA) — Israel says it has restored water to southern Gaza, five days after shutting off the flow of water to the whole territory in an effort to pressure Hamas to relinquish the hostages it took when it attacked Israel on Oct. 7.

Meanwhile, the United States has informed U.S. citizens who wish to leave Israel that they should prepare to depart by ship early Monday morning from Haifa.

And U.S. senators who are in Israel as part of a show of support had to take cover in a bomb shelter as rocket sirens sounded during their visit to Tel Aviv.

The developments come as Israeli forces continue to prepare for a major military operation in Gaza in response to last week’s Hamas attack that left thousands of Israelis dead, wounded or captive. Israel said on Sunday that it has been in touch with relatives of 155 people who are being held hostage in Gaza, dozens more than it had previously said.

Early Friday, Israel urged more than a million Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza City and move south to avoid military activity in the northern end of the 141-square-mile Gaza Strip, which Hamas controls and where about 2 million people live. Concern is widespread that a humanitarian disaster could unfold there as Israel follows what it called “a complete siege” with a major ground invasion. The Hamas-run Palestinian Ministry of Health said on Sunday that 2,670 people had been killed in Israeli strikes.

The water restoration in southern Gaza followed intense advocacy by U.S. officials, Israeli officials told Axios. While Israel said it had restored water at “a specific point” within Gaza, people on the ground said they did not quickly regain access, according to local news reports.

In a signal of how seriously the Biden administration is taking the plight of Gaza Palestinians displaced by the fighting, President Joe Biden on Sunday named a special envoy for humanitarian issues in the Middle East, David Satterfield, who is a veteran diplomat with decades of experience in the region.

Satterfield “will lead U.S. diplomacy to urgently address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, including work to facilitate the provision of life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable people and promote the safety of civilians,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement welcoming the appointment.

Meanwhile, efforts are underway to safeguard Israeli civilians and citizens of other countries in advance of a possible invasion of Gaza. The Israeli government was working to evacuate the 30,000 residents of Sderot, a city on the border of Gaza that has come under heavy rocket fire over the last week. Israel has 60,000 internal refugees in total.

And the United States was working to evacuate citizens who were traveling in Israel when the attack took place or otherwise wish to leave. Charter flights began departing on Friday. Now, Americans in Israel have been told that they can travel to the northern city of Haifa for passage to Cyprus on Monday morning.

Citizens and their family members who have valid travel documents must arrive at the port by 9 a.m. Sunday and can bring only one bag each for the roughly 12-hour journey, according to an alert distributed by the U.S. Embassy late Saturday. Pets will not be allowed on board, and travelers will need to promise to repay the cost of the trip. They will also need to figure out their next steps once in Cyprus, although there is a chance that the State Department could charter further flights.

A bipartisan delegation of U.S. senators has traveled to Israel to show what Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Jewish Democrat from New York, said was “unwavering support” for the country as it battles Hamas. While the group was in Tel Aviv, rocket alarms sounded and the group, which also included Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, a Republican, ran to a bomb shelter.

“It shows you what Israelis have to go through,” Schumer tweeted. “We must provide Israel with the support required to defend itself.”

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