Renewed Gaza fighting stretches into second day after Israel-Hamas truce collapses

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Gil Cohen-magen | Afp | Getty Images

Renewed fighting in Gaza stretched into a second day on Saturday after talks to extend a week-old truce with Hamas collapsed and mediators said Israeli bombardments were complicating attempts to again pause hostilities.

Eastern areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza came under intense bombardment as the truce deadline lapsed shortly after dawn on Friday, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, Reuters journalists in the city said.

Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, searching for shelter further

Israel said its ground, air and naval forces struck more than 200 “terror targets” in Gaza.

By Friday evening, health officials in the coastal strip said Israeli strikes had killed 184 people, wounded at least 589 others and hit more than 20 houses.

Early on Saturday, rocket sirens sounded in Israeli communities outside Gaza, but there were no reports of serious damage or casualties. Footage of Gaza, taken from southern Israel, included the sounds of explosions and showed smoke rising into the sky.

The warring sides blamed each other for the collapse of the truce, during which Hamas militants had released hostages exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli jails.

The United Nations said the fighting would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency. “Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza,” said Jens Laerke,

spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva.

A pause that started on Nov. 24 had been extended twice, and Israel had said it could continue as long as Hamas released 10 hostages a day. But after seven days during which women, children and foreign hostages were freed, mediators failed to find a formula to release more.

Israel accused Hamas of refusing to release all the women it held. A Palestinian official said the breakdown occurred over female Israeli soldiers.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas after an Oct. 7 rampage in which it says the militant group killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostage.

Israeli assaults since have laid waste much of Gaza, ruled by Hamas since 2007. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say over 15,000 Gazans have been killed and thousands are missing.

Negotiations continuing, Qatar says

Qatar, which has played a central mediating role, said negotiations were continuing with Israelis and Palestinians to restore the truce but Israel’s renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated matters.

An Israeli official in Washington said it was a “very high priority” to get as many hostages released as possible.

“And for that, under agreed terms, Israel is willing to give additional pauses,” the official said, while adding: “We can negotiate while we still fight.”

Residents and officials from Hamas on Friday said fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades battled Israeli troops and tanks in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in the north.

Casualties were reported in southern Lebanon, a flashpoint of conflict for Israel on its northern border, with Lebanon state media reporting Israeli shelling killed three people on Friday.

The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, said two of those killed were its fighters. It added it had carried out several attacks on Israeli military positions at the border.

The Israeli army said its artillery struck sources of fire from Lebanon and air defences had intercepted two launches.

Reuters could not confirm the battlefield accounts.

U.S. and Hamas trade accusations

“We’re going to continue to work with Israel and Egypt and Qatar on efforts to re-implement the pause,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a press conference in California, while blaming Hamas for failing to meet conditions on hostages and for an attack in Jerusalem.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Washington should be putting pressure on Israel.

“We should be pushing Israel to realise this is not only a military conflict but it is a conflict for hearts and minds of people in the world and people in United States,” Warner told Reuters.

Hamas accused Washington of giving a green light for an Israeli “war of genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

“Today, it brazenly repeats the Zionist lies, which hold Hamas responsible for resuming the war and not extending the humanitarian truce,” it said in a statement.

The U.S. is working on a plan with Israel to minimise harm to civilians in any military operation in southern Gaza, a senior U.S. official said.

Friday’s bombing was most intense in Khan Younis and Rafah in the south, medics and witnesses said. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been sheltering there because of fighting in the north.

Leaflets dropped on eastern areas of Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate – not to other areas in Khan Younis as in the past, but further south to Rafah.

“You have been warned,” the leaflets said in Arabic.

Israel released a link to a map showing Gaza divided into hundreds of districts, which it said would be used in future to communicate which areas were safe.

In Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.

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