Israeli tanks, missiles strike Gaza in offensive against Hamas

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Written By Pinang Driod

© Reuters. Israeli soldiers work to repair tanks amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in southern Israel, December 28, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Bassam Masoud

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) -Israeli forces attacked areas of the central and southern Gaza Strip where residents have been expecting a renewed ground offensive in areas crammed with tens of thousands of Palestinians already displaced by the Israeli-Hamas war.

With nightfall on Thursday, an Israeli airstrike on a house in the southern city of Khan Younis killed eight Palestinians, health officials said. Three Palestinians were killed and six injured in an Israeli missile strike on a house in Maghazi camp in central Gaza, the Palestine Red Crescent said.

“The task here is to dismantle Hamas – so that it no longer has military and governing capabilities,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said at a press briefing on operations in Khan Younis. “We will be required to show a lot of perseverance and determination.”

A Palestinian journalist posted pictures of Israeli tanks near a mosque in a built-up area of Bureij in central Gaza.

The Islamist group Hamas released video it said showed its fighters targeting Israeli tanks and soldiers east of Bureij. Reuters was not able to verify the location or the date the video was filmed.

“That moment has come, I wished it would never happen, but it seems displacement is a must,” said Omar, 60, who said he had been forced to move with at least 35 family members. He declined to give his surname for fear of reprisals.

Yamen Hamad has been living in a school in Deir al-Balah, also in central Gaza, since fleeing from the north. He said people newly displaced from Bureij and Nusseirat were setting up tents wherever there was open ground.

In one of Israel’s latest airstrikes, 20 Palestinians were killed and 55 wounded in Rafah, a major town near the southern border with Egypt, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said. Their bombed building was housing displaced civilians, according to local medics and residents.

A Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli security forces, Palestinian authorities said, after stabbing two security personnel at a checkpoint near Jerusalem on Thursday. Israeli police said the personnel were mildly injured.

Hamas praised the attack and in a statement said: “we call on our people in the West Bank and occupied territories to intensify operations and confrontations with the Zionist enemy.”

The conflict has also rippled across the Middle East, notably with Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacking commercial vessels in the Red Sea to show their support for Hamas.

On Thursday, the U.S. military said it shot down one drone and one anti-ship ballistic missile in the Southern Red Sea that were fired by Houthis in the 22nd attempted attack on international shipping since Oct. 19.

There was no damage to any of the 18 ships in the area nor reported injuries, U.S. Central Command said on X website.

SEARCHING THROUGH RUBBLE

Reuters video showed rescuers scrabbling frantically through rubble to uncover and pull out victims including a baby and several children and rushing them through milling crowds of dazed and weeping people to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital.

Palestinian health authorities said earlier that 210 people were confirmed killed in Israeli strikes in the past 24 hours, raising the toll of Palestinians killed in the war so far to 21,320 – nearly 1% of Gaza’s population. Thousands more dead were feared to be buried or lost in the ruins.

Over the course of the war, the Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but it accuses Hamas of operating in densely populated areas and using civilians as human shields, a charge the group denies.

Hamas and its fighters are dug deep into the Gaza Strip’s dense cities and towns and their leaders are still at large.

Israel has reported 169 of its soldiers killed in its Gaza campaign after Hamas fighters rampaged through Israeli towns in a cross-border raid on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking about 240 hostages.

Some 110 hostages were freed during a Nov. 24-Dec. 1 humanitarian pause and more than 20 others have been declared dead.

U.S. President Joe Biden said on Thursday that Hamas killed an American hostage, Judith Weinstein, 70, on Oct. 7. Last week he said her husband Gadi Haggai, 73, was killed on the same day.

The Israeli military released findings of an investigation into the killings in error by its troops of three Israeli hostages in Gaza on Dec. 15. Soldiers mistook their cries for help as a ruse by Hamas militants to draw them into an ambush, the military said, concluding that the soldiers acted rightly to the best of their understanding.

EGYPT’S PLAN TO END CONFLICT

Egypt confirmed that it had put forward a framework proposal to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip that includes three stages ending with a ceasefire and said it was awaiting responses on the plan.

The proposal is an attempt “to bring viewpoints between all concerned parties closer, in an effort to stop Palestinian bloodshed and the aggression against the Gaza Strip and restore peace and stability to the region,” Diaa Rashwan, head of Egypt’s State Information Service, said in a statement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will keep some form of security control of all Gaza indefinitely, though he insists that this would not amount to reoccupying the enclave.

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