Israel bombed targets in the crowded southern Gaza Strip on Saturday and ordered the evacuation of more neighborhoods targeted for attacks, driving up the death toll even as the United States and others urged the country to do more a day after the ceasefire collapsed to do to protect the civilian population.

The prospect of further ceasefires in Gaza appeared grim as Israel recalled its negotiators and the Hamas deputy leader said that any further exchange of hostages held in Gaza for Palestinians detained by Israel would only come as part of ending the war.

“We will continue the war until we achieve all of its objectives, and it is impossible to achieve these objectives without the ground operation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech on Saturday evening.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed since fighting resumed on Friday morning following a week-long ceasefire with the ruling militant group Hamas, according to Gaza’s health ministry. On Saturday, several multi-story residential buildings were hit and the neighborhoods were enveloped in huge clouds of smoke.

Separately, the ministry said the total death toll in Gaza since the war began on Oct. 7 exceeded 15,200, a significant increase from the previous toll of more than 13,300 on Nov. 20. The ministry makes no distinction between civilians and combatants. but it was said that 70% of the dead were women and children. It was said that more than 40,000 people had been injured since the war began.

“Too many innocent Palestinians have been killed. “Frankly, the level of civilian suffering and the images and videos coming out of Gaza are devastating,” US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters during the COP28 climate change conference in Dubai.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, appealed to protect civilians after an offensive devastated large areas of the northern Gaza Strip in the first weeks of the war. About two million Palestinians, almost the entire population of Gaza, currently live in the southern half of the territory.

The Israeli military said it struck more than 400 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip in the past day, including over 50 in the city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas in the south.

Palestinian Red Crescent spokesman Mahmoud Basal told Al Jazeera that there were more than 300 “martyrs” in the Shujaia district of Gaza City and that houses had been razed. The Israeli military said it killed Hamas battalion commander Shujaia but gave no details of the operation. Residents could not be reached.

In the northern Gaza Strip, an airstrike destroyed a building housing families in the Jabaliya urban refugee camp on the outskirts of Gaza City. There were dozens dead or injured, said residents Hamza Obeid and Amal Radwan.

“The building turned into a pile of rubble,” Obeid said. AP video showed smoke rising as men, some wearing sandals, made their way over rubble. The Israeli military confirmed it was operating in Jabaliya and said it had found and destroyed Hamas tunnels in the area.

And a violent strike hit a cluster of multi-story buildings in Hamad City, a Qatari-funded housing development on the outskirts of Khan Younis. Smoke enveloped the complex. There was initially no information on the number of victims.

“Where is it safe? I swear to God, no one knows, where are we going?” asked Zohair al Raai, who said his family received a recorded message that their building should be evacuated.

Also in the south, at least nine people, including three children, were killed in an attack on a house in Deir al-Balah, according to the hospital where the bodies were taken.

Meanwhile, Palestinian militant groups in Gaza said they had fired rockets into southern Israel. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman, said Hamas had launched more than 250 airstrikes since the end of the ceasefire. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

As fighting resumed, the Israeli military released an online map that divided the Gaza Strip into hundreds of numbered plots and urged residents to familiarize themselves with the number of their location ahead of evacuation warnings.

On Saturday, the military listed more than two dozen parcel numbers around Gaza City and east of Khan Younis. In addition, leaflets containing evacuation orders were dropped over towns east of Khan Younis.

A resident of Khan Younis said a neighbor received a call from the Israeli army warning that houses in the area were being hit. “We told them: ‘We have nothing here, why do you want to attack it?’” said resident Hikmat al-Qidra. Al-Qidra said the house was destroyed.

The maps and leaflets caused panic and confusion, particularly in the crowded South. Since they cannot reach northern Gaza or neighboring Egypt, their only means of escape is to move within the 220 square kilometer area.

“There is nowhere to go,” said Emad Hajar, who fled to Khan Younis a month ago. “They drove us out of the north, and now they’re pushing us to leave the south.”

Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Netanyahu, said Israel was making “maximum efforts” to protect civilians and that the military had used leaflets, phone calls and radio and television broadcasts to urge Gazans to leave certain areas.

Mr. Regev added that Israel was considering a future security buffer zone that would not allow Gaza residents direct access to the border fence on foot.

Israel says it has targeted Hamas operatives, blaming the militants for civilian casualties and accusing them of operating in residential neighborhoods. It claims to have killed thousands of militants without providing evidence. Israel said 77 of its soldiers were killed in the offensive in northern Gaza.

Also on Saturday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received the first convoy of aid trucks through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt since fighting resumed. Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Border Crossing Authority, said 100 trucks had arrived, including three carrying 150,000 liters of fuel.

Meanwhile, the US vice president said in a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi that the United States will “under no circumstances” allow a forced relocation of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, a prolonged siege of the Gaza Strip or a redrawing of its borders would, says a US summary.

The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel. About 240 people were captured.

The renewed hostilities have heightened concerns about 137 hostages who the Israeli military says are still being held after 105 were released during the ceasefire. A 70-year-old woman held by Hamas was declared dead on Saturday, according to her kibbutz, bringing the number of known dead hostages to eight.

At a rally of tens of thousands in Tel Aviv, released hostages demanded the release of the rest. In a video address, 85-year-old Yaffa Adar spoke specifically for the detained children, saying: “I want to see them now – not when I’m lying in a coffin.”

Hamas and Israel disagreed over who else was being held.

Hamas deputy leader Saleh Arouri told Al Jazeera that the remaining hostages were men “all of whom served in the (Israeli) army.” That contradicted another senior Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, who told The Associated Press on Friday that the group was ready to exchange more hostages but rejected an Israeli demand for the release of 10 female soldiers.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas violated the ceasefire agreement by refusing to return two children and 15 women.

During the ceasefire, Israel released 240 Palestinians. Most of those released by both sides were women and children.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. Mroue reported from Beirut and Anna from New York. AP writers Julia Frankel and Iris Samuels in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Source : www.csmonitor.com

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