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Gaza ‘close-quarters combat’ leaves dozens of militants dead: army

The Israeli army has intensified operations in Khan Yunis, south Gaza's largest city, while an Israeli raid continued around Tulkarem.

Israeli ground troops killed dozens of militants in “close-quarters combat” Thursday, the army said, as it intensified operations in Khan Yunis, south Gaza’s biggest city.

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has soared alongside the war in Gaza, an Israeli raid continued into a second day around Tulkarem, an official said. Palestinian health officials reported a sixth person had been killed in the operation.

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Tensions flared further in the wider region, following Pakistani strikes on an Iranian border zone and new US military action targeting Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.

“In Khan Yunis, the Givati Brigade is now fighting in the southernmost area that (Israeli) ground troops have operated in so far,” the army said, referring to a unit that had been based in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal.

“The soldiers eliminated dozens of terrorists in close-quarters combat and with the assistance of tank fire and air support,” it said in a statement.

Soldiers raided the “Martyr’s Outpost” of Hamas’s Khan Yunis brigade and the offices of its commanders, seizing a weapons cache including AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, it added.

Live footage from AFPTV showed smoke rising over central-southern Gaza in the afternoon. The Hamas government reported dozens of strikes, including on Khan Yunis and refugee camps in central Gaza.

Gaza’s health ministry said 93 people had been killed overnight, including 16 in a strike on a house in the southern city of Rafah, where many people have fled.

Those killed in the Rafah strike included women and children, and 20 people were injured, the ministry said.

A man sat quietly among the rubble, his head bowed, examining a child’s glove.

Umm Walid al-Zamli said she lost her children, and her house.

“The eldest was a second-grade girl,” she said in a choked voice. “What did they do wrong?”

– ‘Moment of relief’ –

Fighting has ravaged Gaza since Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israel that resulted in the death of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel is conducting relentless bombardment and a ground offensive. These have killed at least 24,620 Palestinians, around 70 percent of them women, children and adolescents, according to updated health ministry figures.

Militants seized about 250 hostages during the October 7 attacks, around 132 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza.

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At least 27 hostages are believed to have been killed, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Families of the captives have spearheaded a campaign to get them home, pressuring the government which has said their return is one of its war aims.

UN agencies say greater aid access to Gaza is urgently needed, as famine and disease threatens.

Palestinian and Israeli officials on Thursday confirmed a shipment of aid, including medicine for hostages, had entered Gaza after French and Qatari mediation.

Qatar late Wednesday said the shipment, which also comprises humanitarian aid for Gazan civilians, had reached the territory under an agreement announced on Tuesday.

Two planes had earlier arrived in the Egyptian city of El-Arish near Gaza with 61 tonnes of aid provided by Qatar and France.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it did not play any role in implementing the deal but welcomed it as “a much-needed moment of relief”.

– Baby Bibas –

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the army was hitting Khan Yunis particularly hard to dismantle the Hamas leadership, which the army says has already been done in northern Gaza.

Since ground operations began in late October, 193 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza, the military says.

The war has displaced roughly 85 percent of Gazans, the UN says. Many have crowded into shelters where they struggle to get food, water, fuel and medical care.

At Israel’s Nir Oz kibbutz, Yossi Schneider is clinging to hope for his relative Kfir Bibas, a baby, despite Hamas’s announcing his death, along with that of his brother and mother.

The youngest hostage was less than nine months old when militants snatched him from his bed on October 7. He would be celebrating his first birthday on Thursday.

“We are thinking about them every day, every second, every minute,” Schneider said.

– Iranian strikes –

In the West Bank, violence has escalated to a level not seen since the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, of 2000-05.

Army raids and attacks by settlers have killed about 360 people in the territory, according to its health ministry.

The losses are also economic. The World Bank has estimated the West Bank’s gross domestic product could fall by six percent this year.

The man shot dead Thursday in Nur Shams refugee camp, on the edge of Tulkarem, was a civilian not involved in fighting between Israeli forces and militants, local official Remi Elyan told AFP.

Israel’s military said troops returned fire while they were working to “uncover roads where explosive devices were planted”.

Israeli forces killed 10 people in the West Bank on Wednesday, the ministry and the army said.

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Five were killed inside Tulkarem refugee camp, according to the ministry, while Israel’s military confirmed an air strike that killed “a number of terrorists” during a raid there.

In the latest incident to unsettle the Middle East — and beyond — Iranian state media said Pakistani strikes Thursday on an Iranian border region killed nine people. Pakistan said it had targeted militants.

This followed a rare Iranian air strike, late on Tuesday, which Iranian media said targeted a group which in December claimed the killing of at least 11 Iranian policemen.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards earlier said they had destroyed the “Zionist regime’s spy headquarters in the Kurdistan region of Iraq”. Tehran also launched attacks on targets in Syria.

European Union spokesman Peter Stano said the series of attacks are of “utmost concern” and have “a destabilising effect on the region”.

Israel has exchanged regular cross-border fire with Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

US forces late Wednesday said they conducted a fourth round of strikes on areas of Yemen controlled by Iran-backed Huthi rebels who have disrupted shipping in the Red Sea. The US military said it struck 14 Huthi missiles that were loaded to be fired.

© Agence France-Presse

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