Israel strikes southern Gaza, US VP Harris calls for restraint

Israel strikes southern Gaza, US VP Harris calls for restraint

]Smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, December 2, 2023. REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

The deputy head of Hamas, however, said no prisoners would be exchanged with Israel unless there is a ceasefire and all Palestinian detainees in Israel are released.

Saleh Al-Arouri told Al Jazeera TV that Israeli hostages held by Hamas are soldiers and civilian men who previously served in the army.

But Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Hamas breached its commitment to free 17 women and children still held in Gaza and insisted that the militant group must keep its word.

The latest conflict broke out on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants burst through the Gaza border fence in an onslaught that killed mostly Israeli civilians.

Israel responded with a bombing campaign and a ground offensive in the north, destroying swathes of Gaza.

South Targeted

The southern part of Gaza including Khan Younis and Rafah was being pounded on Saturday. Residents said houses had been hit and three mosques destroyed in Khan Younis. Columns of smoke rose into the sky.

Displaced Gazans have been sheltering in Khan Younis and Rafah because of fighting in the north, but residents said they feared Israeli troops were preparing to move south.

Palestinian witnesses said Israeli tanks had taken up positions near the road between Khan Younis and Deir Al-Balah.

Yamen, who gave only his first name, fled to Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza from the north after Israel destroyed several districts there.

"Where to after Deir Al-Balah, after Khan Younis? I don't know where I would take my wife and six children."

On Saturday morning, Israeli air strikes hit areas close to the Nasser Hospital six times, medics and witnesses said.

The hospital is filled with thousands of displaced and hundreds of wounded, including many of those who had been evacuated from north Gaza hospitals.

"A night of horror," said Samira, a mother of four. "It was one of the worst nights we spent in Khan Younis in the past six weeks since we arrived here ... We are so afraid they will enter Khan Younis."

Among the dead on Saturday was the president of the territory's Islamic University, a theoretical physicist and applied mathematician killed with his family when a house was bombed, health officials said.

Military targets

The Israeli military said that in the space of 24 hours its ground, air and naval forces had hit 400 militant targets and killed an unspecified number of Hamas fighters.

These included many in northern Gaza, some in a gun battle at a mosque used by Islamic Jihad militants as a command post.

Hamas said its forces had killed and injured a number of Israeli soldiers in northern Gaza.

Leaflets dropped by Israel on eastern areas of Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate further south to Rafah.

Reuters could not confirm the battlefield accounts.

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Israel Hamas Gaza Palestine War

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