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Israel pushes into Gaza from north and south

Israeli forces have pushed deep into the Gaza’s northern edge to recapture an area where they had claimed to have defeated Hamas months ago, while tanks and troops pushed across a highway into Rafah in the south.

Israelis from the city of Sderot in southern Israeli watch as smoke rises following an Israeli strike on Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo: EPA

Israelis from the city of Sderot in southern Israeli watch as smoke rises following an Israeli strike on Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip. Photo: EPA

With some of the most intense fighting for weeks now taking place on both the northern and southern edges of Gaza, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have again taken flight, and aid groups warn that a humanitarian crisis could sharply worsen.

Israel described its latest return to the north, where it pulled out most of its troops five months ago, as part of a “mop-up” stage of the war to prevent fighters from returning, and said such operations had always been part of its plan.

Palestinians say the need to return to earlier battlegrounds is proof Israel’s military objectives are unattainable.

On Monday in sprawling Jabalia, the biggest of Gaza’s eight camps built 75 years ago to house Palestinian refugees from what is now Israel, tanks pushed towards the heart of the district.

Residents fled their houses along rubble-strewn streets carrying bags of belongings. Tank shells were landing in the centre of the camp and airstrikes had destroyed clusters of houses, they said.

“We don’t know where to go. We have been displaced from one place to the next … We are running in the streets. I saw it with my own eyes. I saw the tank and the bulldozer. It is on that street,” said one woman, who did not give her name.

Israeli troops are seeking to wipe out Hamas, which has said it is committed to Israel’s destruction. The militant group burst into Israel on October 7, killing 1200 and taking more than 250 hostages, by Israeli tallies.

Attending a Memorial Day ceremony to mark Israel’s fallen soldiers in Jerusalem on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war against Hamas is a struggle to secure Israel’s “existence, liberty, security and prosperity”.

“Our war of independence is not over yet, it continues to these days,” he said.

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The Palestinian death toll in the war has now surpassed 35,000, according to Gaza health officials who fear many more bodies are lost under the rubble.

The fighting has laid waste to the coastal enclave and caused a deep humanitarian crisis, with the Gaza health ministry warning in a statement on Monday that the medical system is on the verge of collapse due to a shortage of fuel to power generators and ambulances.

Palestinian health officials said they had so far recovered 20 bodies of Palestinians killed in the overnight air strikes on Jabalia, while dozens were injured.

In Rafah, next to Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, Israel stepped up aerial and ground bombardments on the eastern areas of the city, killing people in an air strike on a house in the Brazil neighbourhood.

Israel ordered residents out of the east of the city last week, and extended that order to central areas in recent days, sending hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are already displaced, fleeing for new shelters.

Residents said Israeli air and ground bombardments were intensifying and tanks had cut off the main north-south Salahuddin Road that divides the eastern part of the city from the central area.

UNRWA, the main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, estimated that about 360,000 people had fled the southern city since the Israeli military gave its first evacuation order a week ago.

The assault on Rafah has caused one of the biggest splits in generations between Israel and its main ally the United States, which put some deliveries of weapons on hold for the first time since the war began.

Washington has said Israel must not assault Rafah without a plan in place to protect civilians there, which it has yet to see.

– AAP

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