CAIRO: With a renewed ceasefire push stalled, Israel bombarded central and southern areas of Gaza Strip again on Friday, killing 28 Palestinians, and tank forces advanced to the western edges of Rafah.

Qatari and Egyptian mediators tried again this week to reconcile clashing demands preventing a halt to the hostilities, a release of Israeli prisoners and Palestinians jailed in Israel, and an untrammelled flow of aid into Gaza to alleviate a humanitarian disaster.

But sources close to the talks said there were still no signs of a breakthrough.

A month after rumbling into Rafah in what Israel said was an assault to wipe out Hamas’s last intact combat units, tank-led forces have advanced to the southwest fringes of the city that skirts the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt, residents said.

They said tanks were stationed in the Al Izba district, near the Mediterranean coast, while snipers had commandeered some buildings and high ground, trapping people in their homes. They said Israeli machinegun fire had made it too dangerous to go out.

Gaza health officials said two Palestinians had been killed and several wounded in western Rafah from tank shelling there. In central Gaza, Palestinian medics said 15 people died overnight in Israeli bombardment.

“I think the occupation forces are trying to reach the beach area of Rafah. The raids and the bombing overnight were tactical, they entered under heavy fire and then retreated,” one Palestinian resident said via a chat app.

In the larger city of Khan Younis, just to the north of Rafah, an Israeli air strike on a house killed eight people and wounded several, including children.

In northern Gaza, three Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike on a Gaza City school building that was sheltering displaced families, rescue workers said.

Hamas said on Friday its fighters shelled militants in the central city of Deir al-Balah shelled a house where Israeli troops were barricaded, killing some and wounding others. It said helicopters were seen landing to extricate the stricken Israeli unit.

The Israeli military focused on central Gaza in its latest update, saying it had killed “dozens” of militants and destroyed more militant infrastructure in continuing operations in the al-Bureij refugee camp and nearby city of Deir al-Balah.

Israel’s military blames Hamas for Gaza’s high civilian death toll, accusing it of operating within densely populated neighbourhoods, schools and hospitals as cover, something it denies. U.N. and humanitarian officials accuse Israel of using disproportionate force in the war, which it denies.

Death circle

On Thursday, Israel hit an al-Nuseirat school building with what it said was a targeted airstrike on up to 30 militant combatants inside, and a Hamas official said 40 people were killed including women and children sheltering at the U.N. site.

“It’s just another horrific example of the price that civilians are paying, that Palestinian men, women and children who are just trying to survive, who are being forced to move around in sort of a death circle around Gaza, trying to find safety, are paying,” UN spokesperson Step­hane Dujarric said.

Israel has ruled out peace until Hamas is eradicated, and much of Gaza lies in ruins, but Hamas has proven resilient, with militants resurfacing to fight in areas where Israeli forces had previously declar­ed to have defeated them and pulled back.

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2024

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