RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces shelled Palestinian refugee camps in central Gaza on Tuesday, residents said, apparently in preparation to expand their ground offensive to a third part of the besieged territory.
The opening of a new potential combat zone highlights the long and destructive road ahead as Israel vows to crush Hamas following its October 7 attack on southern Israel. For weeks, Israeli forces have been engaged in heavy urban fighting in northern Gaza and the southern city of Khan Younis, pushing Palestinians into smaller corners of the territory in search of refuge.
Despite international pressure for a ceasefire and American calls for a reduction in civilian casualtiesIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday that the fight “is not close to being over.”
Israel’s offensive was one of most devastating military campaigns in recent history. More than 20,600 Palestiniansincluding two thirds of women and children, were killed, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, whose count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.
Meanwhile, new signs that the war between Israel and Hamas are stoking tensions in the region. Israeli airstrike in Syria killed an Iranian general, bringing wishes of revenge from Iran. US military planes strike Iran-backed militias in Iraq who carried out a drone strike that injured American soldiers there.
Residents of central Gaza on Tuesday described a night of shelling and airstrikes that rocked the Nuseirat, Maghazi and Bureij camps. The camps are built-up towns, housing Palestinians driven from their homes in what is now Israel during the 1948 war and their descendants – and are now also populated by people who fled the north.
“The bombings were very intense,” Radwan Abu Sheitta, a Palestinian teacher, said by telephone from his home in Bureij. “It looks like they are approaching,” he said of Israeli troops.
The Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, said their fighters struck an Israeli tank east of Bureij. His report could not be independently confirmed, but it suggests that Israeli forces are heading towards the camp.
Throughout the war, a constellation of Iranian-backed militias in the region have stepped up attacks in support of Hamas. So far, all sides have appeared to calibrate violence to avoid triggering widespread conflict, but the fear is that an unexpected escalation could spiral out of control.
Iranian-backed militias in Iraq carried out a drone strike on a US base in Erbil in northern Iraq on Monday, injuring three American service members, one seriously, according to US officials. It is the latest of around 100 attacks carried out by militias against bases housing American troops in Iraq and Syria.
In response, American military planes struck three locations in Iraq before dawn Tuesday linked to one of the main militias, Kataib Hezbollah.
The Israeli strike hit a neighborhood in the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Monday, killing General Seyed Razi Mousavi, an adviser to Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards. The attack took place as he entered a farm reportedly used as an office for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, in the Sayeda Zeinab district on the outskirts of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Almost daily, Hezbollah and Israel exchange missile volleys, airstrikes and bombings across the Israeli-Lebanese border. Around 150 people were killed on the Lebanese side, most of them fighters from Hezbollah and other groups but also 17 civilians. At least seven soldiers and four civilians were killed on the Israeli side.
In the Red Sea, Houthi rebel attacks in Yemen against commercial shipping disrupted trade and triggered a U.S.-led multinational naval operation to protect shipping lanes.
FIGHTS IN GAZA
Israeli troops are engaged in nearly two months of ground fighting with Hamas and other militants in northern Gaza and weeks of urban fighting in Khan Younis. Fighting and bombing razed large areas of both areas, and strikes continued throughout the territory.
However, Hamas fighters showed strong resilience. The Israeli military announced the deaths of two additional soldiers on Tuesday, bringing the total deaths in the ground offensive to 158. Militants launched a barrage of rockets into Israel on Monday evening, triggering air raid sirens in the city from Ashkelon, in the south of the country. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
Israel has vowed to continue the fight to eliminate Hamas’s military and government capabilities in Gaza, after the militants carried out their shock attack in southern Israel on October 7, killing around 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages. Israel says it also wants to free more than 100 hostages still in captivity in Gaza.
Israel blames Hamas for the high number of civilian casualties in Gaza, citing the militants’ use of crowded residential areas and tunnels. Israel claims to have killed thousands of Hamas militants, without presenting evidence.
A strike hit the Habash family home on Tuesday in Mawasi, a rural area on Gaza’s southern coast that Israel has declared a safe zone for people to seek refuge in. One woman was killed and at least eight other people were injured, according to a cameraman working for The Associated Press at the nearby hospital. The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the strike.
Intensified fighting has pushed Gaza’s population into a shrinking area, particularly in the central towns of Deir al-Balah and Rafah in the far south on the Egyptian border. Both are under continuous bombardment. U.N. officials say a quarter of the population is starving under Israeli siege, which allows only a trickle of food, water, fuel, medicine and other supplies into the territory .
The UN Security Council last week called for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to Gaza. But so far there have been few concrete signs of a change in the flow of aid, which the UN has said is struggling to distribute as many areas are isolated by fighting. .
Meanwhile, negotiations appear to have made little progress toward a pause in fighting to allow more hostage releases in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Egypt presented an ambitious peace proposal aiming not only to end the war, but also to develop a plan for the next day. It calls for a gradual release of the hostages and the formation of a Palestinian government composed of experts to administer the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
But it received a cold public reception from Israel and Hamas. This does not meet Israel’s stated goal of crushing Hamas and appears to be at odds with Israel’s insistence on maintaining military control over Gaza for a prolonged period after the war. It is also unclear whether Hamas would agree to relinquish power after controlling Gaza for the past 16 years.
Wafaa Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip and Samy Magdy from Cairo.
See more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war
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