Israel strikes Gaza ambulance; Netanyahu rejects ceasefire without hostage release

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GAZA/TEL AVIV/BEIRUT – Israel struck an ambulance near a Gaza hospital on Friday in an attack the military said targeted militants, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls by Washington’s top diplomat for a halt to fighting unless hostages held by Hamas are freed.

Warning Israel and the US of a potential regional war, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said fighting on the Israel-Lebanon frontier could escalate further and hinted his Iran-backed group was ready to confront US warships in the region.

Israel has vowed to wipe out Hamas, which rules the Palestinian Gaza Strip, after the militant group killed 1,400 people and took more than 240 others hostage in an Oct 7 assault in southern Israel.

The Israeli military has struck Gaza from the air, imposed a siege and launched a ground assault, stirring global alarm at humanitarian conditions in the enclave. Food is scarce, medical services are collapsing and Gaza health officials say more than 9,250 Palestinians have been killed.

Mr Ashraf al-Qidra, spokesperson for the health ministry in Gaza, said 15 people were killed and 60 wounded when Israel struck an ambulance that was part of a convoy at Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa.

Israel’s military said it had identified and hit an ambulance “being used by a Hamas terrorist cell” in the battle zone, and that a number of Hamas fighters were killed.

Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq said allegations its fighters were present were “baseless”. The military gave no evidence to support its assertion that the ambulance was linked to Hamas but said in a statement it intended to release additional information.

In a separate incident in Gaza City late on Friday, Gaza health officials said several Palestinians were killed and wounded in an Israeli strike on a school where hundreds of people were taking shelter.

Gaza health officials did not provide figures for the dead and injured. The Israeli military did not immediately provide comment on the incident.

In an evening briefing, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that so far in the war Israel had killed 10 Hamas commanders responsible for planning the Oct. 7 attack.

“We killed and eliminated them and will continue to eliminate those who lead the combat against our troops, wherever they may be,” Mr Hagari said.

Israel said 25 Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting in Gaza since the military’s ground operation was expanded a week ago.

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