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Israeli tanks move on Gaza City in major attack as civilians seek shelter

Nidal al-Mughrabi
Reuters

CAIRO 鈭 Israeli forces bombarded Gaza City early on Monday and columns of tanks advanced into the heart of the city from different directions in what residents said was one of the heaviest attacks in the Palestinian territory since the start of the war.

The Gaza Civil Emergency Service said it believed dozens of people were killed but emergency teams were unable to reach them because of ongoing offensives in Daraj and Tuffah in the east and Tel Al-Hawa, Sabra and Rimal farther west.

Residents said neighborhoods in Gaza City, which lies in the north of the Gaza Strip, had been bombed throughout the night into the early morning hours. Several multifloor buildings have been destroyed, they added.

One Israeli tank thrust pushed people towards the western road near the Mediterranean Sea, residents said.

More:Gaza ceasefire hopes rise as Israel says it will resume stalled negotiations

"The enemy is behind us and the sea is in front of us, where we will we go?" one Gaza City resident, who identified himself as Abdel-Ghani, told Reuters.

"Tank shells and missiles from the planes are falling on the roads and houses like hell from a volcano. People are running in all directions and no one knows where to go," he said via a chat app.

The Israeli military said in a statement it was mounting an operation against militant infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, and that it had taken out of action more than 30 fighters.

The new Israeli offensive comes as Egypt, Qatar and the 91影视 stepped up efforts to mediate a cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas as the Gaza war entered its 10th month.

More:Masks are key tool against COVID-19. Should they be banned for war protesters?

The war was triggered Oct. 7 when fighters led by Hamas, which controlled Gaza, attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages, according to Israeli figures.

More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli military offensive since then, according to Gaza health officials.

Gaza residents said tanks advanced from at least three directions Monday and reached the heart of Gaza City, backed by heavy Israeli fire from the air and ground. That forced thousands of people out of their homes to look for safer shelter, which for many was impossible to find, and some slept on the roadside.

Medics at the Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital in Gaza City had to evacuate patients to the already crowded and underequipped Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, Palestinian health officials said. An Israeli strike in the eastern suburb of Shejaia killed four Palestinians, medics said.

Israel's military said it had warned civilians about its operations and it said a route would be opened so civilians could evacuate from affected areas. It said fighters with Hamas, and allied group Islamic Jihad, were hiding behind civilian infrastructure to attack Israeli forces.

The Palestinian Fatah Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades said they fired mortar bombs against Israeli forces during the raid in southwest Gaza City.

Cease-fire talks continue

Hopes among Gaza residents of a pause in the 91影视 had revived after Hamas accepted a key part of a 91影视 cease-fire proposal, prompting an official in the Israeli negotiating team to say there was a real chance of a deal.

Hamas has dropped a demand that Israel first commit to a permanent cease-fire before it would sign an agreement. Instead, the militant group said it would allow negotiations to achieve that throughout the six-week first phase, a Hamas source told Reuters on Saturday.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the deal must not prevent Israel from resuming 91影视 until its war objectives are met. Those goals were defined at the start of the war as dismantling Hamas' military and governing capabilities, as well as returning Israeli hostages.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said on Monday it would be a huge mistake to stop the Israeli offensive now.

Smotrich, who heads a pro-settler party which is part of Netanyahu's governing coalition, wrote on social media platform X: "Hamas is collapsing and begging for a ceasefire. This is the time to squeeze the neck until we crush and break the enemy. To stop now, just before the end, and let him recover and fight us again, is a senseless folly."

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