Hamas hounds Israeli forces in main Gaza cities

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An official says Israel will seek to relocate displaced people northward ahead of any push on Rafah.
An official says Israel will seek to relocate displaced people northward ahead of any push on Rafah.

Palestinian gunmen have kept up attacks against Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip’s two main cities, weeks after they were overrun by troops and tanks, in a sign Hamas still maintains some control ahead of any potential truce.

Nearly four months into the war triggered by the Palestinian Islamist group’s deadly cross-border rampage in Israel, there was persistent fighting in Gaza City in the north of the densely populated enclave, and in Khan Younis to the south.

At the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 17 of Hamas’ 24 combat battalions had been dismantled. 

Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israeli forces will “take care of” fighters in southern Gaza. (AP PHOTO)

The rest, he said, were mostly in the southern Gaza Strip – including Rafah, on the enclave’s Egyptian border.

“We’ll take care of them, too,” he said, according to a statement from his office. 

Hamas does not publish its losses.

The prospect of a push into Rafah has piled pressure on the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians who have fled their homes elsewhere and are sheltering there. 

It also worries Egypt, which has said it will not admit any influx of Palestinian refugees in what it describes a bid to prevent any permanent dispossession.

An Israeli official told Reuters, however, that the military would co-ordinate with Egypt, and seek ways of relocating most of the displaced people northward, ahead of any Rafah ground sweep.

Palestinians reported Israeli tank shelling and air strikes there, including one that killed two girls in a house.

As mourners bade farewell to the dead children, a relative, Mohammed Kaloub, said the air strike hit a room full of women and children in Rafah’s al-Salam neighbourhood.

“There is no safe place in Gaza, from the wire fence to the wire fence (borders from north to south), there is no safe place,” he told Reuters.

Palestinian health officials said eight people were killed in separate Israeli air strikes on Deir al-Balah areas in the central Gaza Strip. 

Palestinians watch a car burn after it was hit by an Israeli strike
Residents say Israeli air strikes have hit Rafah in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. (AP PHOTO)

Deir al-Balah is the second city in the enclave where Israel has not yet deployed tanks.

After conducting partial pull-outs from Gaza City in the past few weeks that enabled some residents to return and pick through the rubble, Israeli forces have been mounting incursions. 

Netanyahu described these on Sunday as “mopping-up operations”.

Before dawn on Sunday, air strikes destroyed several multi-storey buildings, including an Egyptian-funded housing project, residents said.

The Israeli military said it killed seven Hamas gunmen in northern Gaza and seized weaponry. 

Israel’s Army Radio said troops in the area were trying to penetrate two Hamas bunkers, a mission it said could take two weeks amid clashes at the sites.

“Gaza City is being wiped out,” one resident who asked not to be named told Reuters. 

“The (Israeli) pull-out was a ruse.”

In Khan Younis, overnight Israeli shelling killed three Palestinians, medics said. 

Residents reported street fighting raging in western and southern areas of the city, where Israel said a soldier was killed in a Palestinian attack on Saturday.

Troops in Khan Younis seized a Hamas compound and killed several gunmen, the military said. 

Netanyahu said Israeli forces in the city were “neutralising” Hamas tunnels that run throughout Gaza, enabling gunmen to hole up and launch ambushes.

Palestinians search for missing people under rubble in Deir al-Balah.
Palestinian health officials say eight people were killed in an Israeli air strike on Deir al-Balah. (EPA PHOTO)

“This demands more time yet,” he told his ministers.

Gaza health authorities, who do not differentiate between militants and civilians in their tallies, said on Sunday more than 27,300 Palestinians have been confirmed killed since the war began. 

They say that 70 per cent of those killed have been women and children. 

Thousands more are feared lost amid the ruins.

Israel says it has killed about 10,000 gunmen in its campaign to annihilate Hamas after the October 7 attack by the group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction. 

In the rampage, 1200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

More than 130 hostages are still in Gaza, and their possible release by Hamas is among issues under discussion in Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated negotiations, that are backed by the United States, to secure a truce.

Hamas has demanded an end to the war. 

Israel rules that out but is open to a temporary truce.

Reuters