GAZA/JERUSALEM – Hamas said its militants fired machine guns and anti-tank missiles toward Israeli forces in north and south Gaza early on Tuesday as Israel’s tanks and infantry attacked the enclave’s main city, raising concerns about the plight of Palestinian civilians.
Israel has expanded ground operations in Gaza as it seeks to punish Hamas for a deadly gun rampage three weeks ago that Israeli authorities say killed over 1,400 people.
Witnesses said Israeli forces targeted Gaza’s main north-south road on Monday and attacked Gaza City from two directions. Israel said its troops freed a soldier from Hamas captivity, one of 239 hostages who Israel says were captured on Oct. 7.
The al-Qassam brigades, the armed wing of Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement, said militants clashed early on Tuesday with Israeli forces “invading the southern Gaza axis, (including) with machine guns, and targeted four vehicles with al-Yassin 105 missiles,” referring to locally produced anti-tank missiles.
The militants also targeted two Israeli tanks and bulldozers in northwest Gaza with the missiles, al-Qassam said.
Reuters was not able to confirm the reports of fighting. Israel’s military had no immediate comment.
Gaza health authorities say that 8,306 people – including 3,457 minors – have been killed in Israeli air and ground attacks.
Military specialists said Israeli forces are moving slowly in their ground offensive in Gaza in part to keep open the possibility that Hamas militants will negotiate the release of the hostages.
The relative caution with which Israeli troops have taken and secured slices of territory in the first days of sustained ground incursions in Gaza stands in contrast to the past three weeks of unrelenting air strikes on the Mediterranean enclave, as well as to Israel’s previous land offensives there.
Israel’s military said it has struck more than 600 militant targets in recent days in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are in dire need of fuel, food and clean water as the war enters its fourth week. U.N. officials said more than one million of Gaza’s civilian population of about 2.3 million have been made homeless by Israel’s bombardment.
Significantly fewer humanitarian aid trucks have reached the besieged enclave than are required, U.N. officials said, and civil order has broken down with people storming U.N. warehouses in search of food.
That has put four U.N. aid distribution centres and a storage facility out of action, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Monday.
“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster. Health needs are soaring and our ability to meet those needs is rapidly declining,” World Health Organization regional emergencies chief Rick Brennan said, reiterating international calls for a ceasefire to enable a larger humanitarian operation.
Aid trucks have been trickling into Gaza from Egypt over the past week via Rafah, the main crossing that does not border Israel. It has become the main point of aid delivery since Israel imposed a “total siege” of Gaza after Oct. 7.
The White House said it was working to get more aid trucks into Gaza.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late on Monday that Israel would not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas in Gaza and would press ahead with its plans to wipe out the group.
Netanyahu said all wars have unintended civilian casualties and Israel’s assault on Gaza was a battle between “civilisation and barbarism,” calling on allies to back Israel.
Hamas released a video on Monday that showed three hostages seized by the Islamist movement on Oct. 7.
The women – identified by Netanyahu as Yelena Trupanob, Danielle Aloni and Rimon Kirsht – sat side by side against a bare wall, and Aloni addressed an angry message to the prime minister.
Netanyahu condemned the video as “cruel psychological propaganda” and said Israel’s ground campaign created possibilities for rescuing the hostages.
The conflict has led to demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians, and antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment.
Biden administration officials, voicing alarm at reports of anti-Jewish incidents at U.S. universities, met American Jewish leaders on Monday to discuss steps to counter the surge, a White House official said.
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up unrest inside Russia after rioters in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv. REUTERS
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