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Hamas says Gaza death toll tops 10,000 as Israel steps up war

The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 people, the Hamas-run health ministry said Monday after nearly one month of bombardment by Israel whose offensive against Palestinian militants showed signs of intensifying.



The death toll in Gaza has surpassed 10,000 people, the Hamas-run health ministry said Monday after nearly one month of bombardment by Israel whose offensive against Palestinian militants showed signs of intensifying.

Determined to destroy Hamas whose 7 October attack left 1,400 dead in Israel, most of them civilians, and saw over 240 hostages taken according to Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed no letup despite mounting calls for a ceasefire.

The White House said US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu discussed potential “tactical pauses” in a phone call Monday.

But no agreements were announced and the pair did not broach the possibility of a humanitarian ceasefire, which the United Nations says is urgently needed.

The dead in Gaza include more than 4,000 children, the health ministry said, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters the bombarded territory was becoming a “graveyard for children”.

Biden has previously questioned the validity of figures issued by the Gaza health ministry, though a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged Monday civilian casualties were “in the thousands”.

Ground forces with tanks have flooded the northern half of the Gaza Strip and tightened an encirclement of Gaza City, effectively splitting the territory in two.

The Israeli army said it had pounded Gaza with “significant” strikes on 450 targets over 24 hours since Sunday morning, and that troops were targeting Hamas commanders in underground tunnels.

“We will be able to dismantle Hamas, stronghold after stronghold, battalion after battalion, until we achieve the ultimate goal, which is to rid the Gaza Strip — the entire Gaza Strip — of Hamas,” Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

However, a top Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, said the group — whose militants fired 16 rockets from Lebanon towards northern Israel on Monday — would never accept a puppet government in Gaza and that “no force on Earth could annihilate” it.

And Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed they had launched a fresh drone attack against Israel, escalating a campaign of disruptive strikes amid fears the war could widen.

Overnight ‘massacres’

Israel’s latest overnight barrage killed 292 people and hit two paediatric hospitals and Gaza’s only psychiatric hospital, the health ministry said.

“These are massacres! They destroyed three houses over the heads of their inhabitants — women and children,” Mahmud Meshmesh, resident of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, told AFP.

“We have already taken 40 bodies out of the rubble,” he said as crowds prayed around corpses wrapped in white shrouds.

Israeli officials accuse Hamas of building tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and places of worship in Gaza to hide fighters, store arms and ammunition, and plan attacks — charges the militant group has denied.

In Jerusalem, relatives of some of the Israeli victims gathered Monday at the Western Wall to mark a month of mourning, and a central Tel Aviv square was filled with empty beds representing the hostages held in Gaza.

Netanyahu, who has rejected any talk of a ceasefire until hostages are returned, said on Monday Israel was “fighting the battle of civilisation against barbarism”.

He vowed to minimise civilian casualties and accused Hamas of “doing everything in its power to keep them (civilians) in harm’s way”, according to an official readout following a meeting with Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov.

‘Nothing left’

Ahead of Biden’s call with Netanyahu, top US diplomat Antony Blinken concluded his latest whirlwind Middle East tour with a stop in Turkey, where again his host pressed for an Israeli ceasefire.

After meeting his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, Blinken said Washington was working “very aggressively” to expand aid for trapped civilians in Gaza.

Israel has air-dropped leaflets and sent text messages ordering Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to head south. A US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.

The Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt reopened Monday to allow the evacuation of foreigners and dual nationals, the Hamas government said, ending a two-day closure prompted by a dispute over the passage of ambulances.

A convoy including four ambulances arrived in Egypt via the Rafah crossing on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.

Evacuees told AFP they waited weeks to get out and had grown increasingly desperate.

“I have lost my home and have nothing left. I came here with nothing but the clothes I’m wearing,” said Dana Okal, a Swedish passport holder.

West Bank unrest

The United States has bolstered its forces in the region, deploying two carrier strike groups and other assets to drive home its message that regional actors should not seek to take advantage of the unrest.

The Pentagon said Monday a US nuclear-powered Ohio-class submarine was in the Middle East to help prevent war from widening.

The war has exacerbated tensions in the occupied West Bank, where more than 150 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces and settlers since it started, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire across the West Bank on Monday, the ministry said.

In Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, a 20-year-old Israeli border policewoman died after a knife-wielding Palestinian assailant stabbed her in front of a police station, the force said.

The assailant, identified by police as a 16-year-old Palestinian from east Jerusalem, was killed.

The Israeli military said Monday it had arrested prominent Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, 22, in a raid in her West Bank town of Nabi Salih on suspicion of “inciting violence and terrorist activities”.

The case against her appeared to centre on claims she called for the massacre of Israelis in explicitly violent terms, referring to Hitler, though her mother said the allegation was false.

Overall, the army said more than 1,350 Palestinians had been arrested across the West Bank since 7 October, with “over 850 of them affiliated with Hamas”.


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