Israel steps up Gaza strikes, pressure grows over civilian casualties

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Gaza (Reuters) – Israeli fighter jets struck 450 Hamas targets in Gaza and troops seized a militant compound in the past 24 hours, Israel’s military said on Monday, in attacks the enclave’s health authorities said killed dozens of people.

A Reuters journalist in the Gaza Strip described the overnight bombardment from the air, ground and sea as one of the most intense since Israel launched its offensive in response to a surprise attack by Hamas on southern Israel a month ago.

Health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza said more than 9,770 Palestinians have been killed in the war since Hamas killed 1,400 people and seized more than 240 hostages on Oct. 7.

Israel, which says its forces have encircled Gaza city, faces mounting pressure to avoid civilian casualties after refusing to countenance a ceasefire until the hostages are released, and a U.S. diplomatic blitz in the region is intended to reduce risks of the conflict escalating.

The health ministry in Gaza said dozens of people were killed by the Israeli air strikes in Gaza City and further south in Gaza neighbourhoods such as Zawaida and Deir Al-Balah. Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV quoted medical sources as saying at least 75 Palestinians were killed and 106 hurt in the attacks.

The Israeli army said its strikes hit “tunnels, terrorists, military compounds, observation posts, and anti-tank missile launch posts”. Ground troops killed several Hamas fighters while taking a militant compound containing observation posts, training areas and underground tunnels, it said.

Reuters could not independently verify these accounts.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to meet Turkey’s foreign minister in Ankara, hours after hundreds of people at a pro-Palestinian protest tried to storm an air base that houses U.S. troops in southern Turkey.

Blinken made an unannounced visit to the West Bank on Sunday to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who joined international calls for an immediate ceasefire. Blinken reiterated U.S. concerns that a ceasefire could aid Hamas, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ruled one out for now.

CIA Chief Visit Reported

U.S. CIA Director William Burns was also set to visit Israel on Monday to discuss the war and intelligence with senior officials, the New York Times reported. Burns also will make stops in other Middle East countries to discuss the Gaza situation, it quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying.

The CIA did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Israel said 31 soldiers had been killed since it began expanded ground operations in Gaza on Oct. 27, fighting thousands of Hamas fighters who believe they can hold off Israel’s advance in the warren of tunnels under the enclave.

Israel has called on civilians in north Gaza – the heart of Hamas’ forces – to evacuate to the south for their own safety and gave a specific time window on Nov. 5 to do so.

However, U.N. monitoring showed that less than 2,000 did so, citing fear, heavy damage to roads and lack of information due to limited communications, a U.N. humanitarian briefing said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesperson, showed reporters what he said was aerial footage of Hamas tunnels and rocket sites at two hospitals in northern Gaza, saying this showed Israel was not responsible for “what’s happening now in northern Gaza”.

A Hamas statement called on U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to form a committee to visit Gaza hospitals to verify Israel’s “false narrative” that Hamas uses hospitals as sites.

U.N. Palestinian refugee agency shelters in the south are overcrowded and unable to take new arrivals, and many displaced people are sleeping in the streets, near the shelters, the U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) said.

‘Torn – Apart Flesh’

Jordan’s air force air-dropped urgent medical aid to the Jordanian field hospital in Gaza early on Monday, according to a post on X from Jordan’s king and reports in state media.

Telecoms provider Paltel said services were resuming gradually after they were disconnected from the Israeli side on Sunday.

U.S. Central Command, which covers the Middle East, said on X that an Ohio-class nuclear missile submarine had arrived in the region – an unusual announcement of a nuclear submarine’s position that was seen by some analysts as a message to Iran, an Israeli foe.

People searched for victims or survivors at the Maghazi refugee camp in Gaza, where the health ministry said Israeli forces had killed at least 47 people in strikes early on Sunday.

“All night I and the other men were trying to pick the dead from the rubble. We got children, dismembered, torn-apart flesh,” said Saeed al-Nejma, 53.

Asked for comment, the Israeli military said it was gathering details.

In a separate attack, 21 Palestinians from one family were killed in strikes, the health ministry said. Israel’s military declined to comment.

Reuters could not independently verify these accounts.

“We demand that you stop them from committing these crimes immediately,” Abbas told Blinken, urging an “immediate ceasefire” from Israel.

Palestinians were facing a war of “genocide and destruction”, news agency WAFA quoted Abbas as saying.

The war has inflamed Israeli-Palestinian violence elsewhere.

In East Jerusalem, Israeli police said a 16-year-old Palestinian stabbed and wounded two officers before being shot dead. In the occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood, medics said a Palestinian was killed and three others wounded by Israeli army fire. A military spokesperson has no immediate comment on that incident.

Tensions increased with Lebanon after an Israeli strike on a car in the south of the country killed three children and their grandmother, Lebanese authorities said.

Israel said it hit “terrorist targets of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon” in response to a missile attack against tanks that killed an Israeli citizen. Hezbollah said it responded by firing rockets at Kiryat Shmona town in northern Israel.

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