Image Source : REUTERS A Palestinian inspects a house destroyed in an Israeli strike.

Gaza: A fresh Israeli airstrike on a school-turned-shelter in southern Gaza killed at least 29 people as advancing tanks in Gaza City forced residents to flee and heavy bombardment shut down medical facilities, according to Palestinian authorities. These attacks are part of a renewed offensive by Israel that Hamas warned could jeopardise months-long ceasefire talks after nine months of war that have flattened much of the territory.

“The fighting has been intense,” said Hakeem Abdel-Bar, who fled Gaza City’s Tuffah district to the home of relatives in another part of the city. He said Israeli warplanes and drones were “striking anything moving” and that tanks had moved into central districts. Most of the dead at the entrance of the school near Khan Younis included mostly women and children.

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with “precise munition” a Hamas fighter who took part in the October 7 raid on Israel that precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza. Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Hamas-run Gaza government media office, said Israeli strikes on central Gaza areas killed 60 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others on Tuesday.

Israel ramps up offensive in Gaza

Earlier airstrikes in central Gaza killed at least 14 people, including a woman and four children, according to two hospitals that received the bodies. Israel has repeatedly struck what it says are militant targets across Gaza since the start of the war nine months ago. The military blames civilian deaths on Hamas because the militants fight in dense, urban areas, but the army rarely comments on individual strikes, which often kill women and children. 

After Israel on Monday called for an evacuation from eastern and central parts of Gaza City, staff at two hospitals — Al-Ahli and the Patients Friends Association Hospital – rushed to move patients and shut down, the United Nations said. Several patients were transferred to a hospital in northern Gaza, which itself was the site of heavy fighting earlier in the war.

Moreover, residents said Israeli tanks that pushed into the Tel Al-Hawa, Shejaia and Sabra neighborhoods of Gaza City shelled roads and buildings, forcing them to flee their homes. “We hold the occupation and the US administration responsible for the horrifying massacres against civilians,” said Thawabta in a statement.

What about ceasefire negotiations?

On Gaza City’s front lines, the armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said their fighters battled Israeli forces with machine guns, mortar fire and anti-tank missiles and killed and wounded Israeli soldiers. Israel’s military did not comment on casualties but said its soldiers were engaged in close-quarter combat with militants, had taken more than 150 fighters out of action in the last week and destroyed booby-trapped buildings and explosives.

The latest fighting has unfolded as senior US officials were in the region to push for a ceasefire after Hamas made concessions last week. But Israel’s renewed campaign threatened talks at a crucial time and could bring negotiations “back to square one”, Hamas quoted leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying. Hopes for a truce had increased after Hamas recently accepted a US proposal to begin talks on releasing Israeli hostages.

Hamas dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent ceasefire before signing the agreement, and would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, according to the source speaking on condition of anonymity. A Palestinian official close to the peace efforts said the proposal could lead to a framework agreement that can end the nine-month war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, if Israel accepts.

However, Israel has not decreased its offensive in Gaza despite international pressure. “Gaza City is being wiped out. This is what is happening. Israel is forcing us to leave homes under fire,” Um Tamer, a mother of seven, told Reuters via a chat app. She said it was the seventh time her family had fled their house in Gaza City, in the north of the enclave and one of Israel’s first targets at the start of the war in October.

Nine months of war and displacement have caused a hunger crisis, and the recent deaths of several more children from malnutrition in the Gaza Strip indicate that famine has spread throughout the coastal enclave, a group of independent human rights experts mandated by the United Nations said. Israel’s campaign in Gaza, triggered by Hamas’ October 7 attack, has killed (38,200) or wounded (88,000) more than 5 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

(with inputs from agencies)

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