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Israel launches deadly Gaza strikes, says ready for new truce talks

Israel launches deadly Gaza strikes, says ready for new truce talks

International Desk

Israel launched devastating air strikes on Gaza Thursday, while also expressing readiness to resume stalled talks on a truce and hostage release deal with Hamas to pause the war raging since October 7.

The Gaza Strip's civil defence agency said two pre-dawn air strikes had killed 26 people, including 15 children, in Gaza City.

Agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said one strike hit a family house, killing 16 people, in the Al-Daraj area, and another killed 10 people inside a mosque compound.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Fierce street battles also raged in Gaza's Jabalia and Rafah where the armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said they had fired mortar barrages at Israeli troops.

International pressure for a ceasefire has mounted on Israel and its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as three European countries said Wednesday they would recognise a Palestinian state.

The week started with the International Criminal Court's prosecutor seeking arrest warrants on war crimes charges against Netanyahu and his defence minister as well as three Hamas leaders.

Israel has angrily rejected those moves, voicing "disgust" over the ICC request and labelling any recognition of Palestinian statehood a "reward for terrorism".

Senior foreign ministry official Jacob Blitstein told the envoys of Ireland, Norway and Spain on Thursday that there will be "serious consequences" for their relations with Israel after they recognise the State of Palestine next week.

But domestic pressure has also risen as supporters of hostages trapped in Gaza again rallied outside Netanyahu's office, passionately demanding a deal to bring them home.

A newly released video showed five female Israeli soldiers, tied up and some with bloodied faces, in the hands of Palestinian militants during the attack more than seven months ago.

The three-minute clip, taken from a militant's body camera footage, was released by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum on Wednesday after the Israeli army lifted censorship on it.

"The footage reveals the violent, humiliating and traumatising treatment the girls endured on the day of their abduction, their eyes filled with raw terror," the forum said.

Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting Hamas to "ensure what we have seen tonight never happens again".

But his office also said that the war cabinet had asked the Israeli negotiating team "to continue negotiations for the return of the hostages".

- 'Not smashing into Rafah' -

The previous round of truce talks, involving US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, ended shortly after Israel launched its attack on Gaza's far southern city of Rafah early this month.

Israel went ahead with the assault on the last city in Gaza to be entered by its ground troops in defiance of global opposition, including from top ally the United States.

Israel has since ordered mass evacuations from Rafah, and the UN says more than 800,000 people have fled.

"We're not smashing into Rafah, we're operating carefully and precisely," armed forces spokesman Daniel Hagari said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that so far the Rafah operation had been "more targeted and limited" than feared and "has not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas".

But he stopped short of saying that Israel had addressed US concerns, adding that Washington was closely watching ongoing Israeli actions.

His Israeli counterpart Tzachi Hanegbi has meanwhile given a bleak assessment of the war to a meeting of parliament's foreign affairs and defence committee, according to a report by Israel's Channel 13.

He reportedly said that Israel has "not achieved any of the strategic aims of the war -- not conditions for a hostage deal; we haven't toppled Hamas; and we haven't allowed residents of the (Gaza) periphery to safely return home".

- 'Explosions and gunfire' -

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas's unprecedented attack on October 7 resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Militants also took 252 hostages, 124 of whom remain in Gaza, including 37 the army says are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 35,800 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Heavy fighting raged again in Gaza, where the military said troops in Rafah had "dismantled a number of tunnel shafts and launchers in the area, and eliminated several terrorists during close-quarters encounters".

Urban combat has also flared again in northern areas, including Jabalia, which Israeli forces first entered several months ago.

"We hear nothing but the sound of explosions and gunfire," said Mahmud al-Sharif, 31, in Jabalia's adjacent refugee camp.

Doctor Mohammad Saleh, the acting director of Al-Awda hospital, one of just two in northern Gaza that the UN says are still functioning, said it was under Israeli siege for a fifth straight day.

"Soldiers are present in the hospital's courtyard and in nearby houses," he said, adding that there was "continuous gunfire and shelling" towards it.

The Gaza interior ministry said that senior Hamas commander Diaa al-Din al-Sharafa had been killed by an Israeli air strike in central Gaza, in a rare acknowledgement from the Hamas government of a high-ranking fatality.

Israel has imposed a siege on Gaza that has deprived the territory's 2.4 million people of most clean water, food, medicines and fuel.

The sporadic arrival of aid by truck slowed further after Israeli forces closed the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) chief Philippe Lazzarini said Israeli authorities were prioritising the private commercial sector at Kerem Shalom, the other crossing into southern Gaza.

While private goods are "welcome", he said most Gazans are desperate after seven months of war and cannot afford goods at the current market prices.

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