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Israeli Strikes in Gaza Kill Over 60   07/17 06:14

   

   DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli airstrikes killed more than 60 
Palestinians in southern and central Gaza overnight and into Tuesday, including 
one that struck an Israeli-declared "safe zone" crowded with thousands of 
displaced people.

   Airstrikes in recent days have brought a constant drumbeat of deaths of 
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, even as Israel has pulled back or scaled down 
major ground offensives in the north and south. Almost daily strikes have hit 
the "safe zone" covering some 60 square kilometers (23 square miles) along the 
Mediterranean coast, where Israel told fleeing Palestinians to take refuge to 
escape ground assaults. Israel has said it is pursuing Hamas militants who are 
hiding among civilians after offensives uprooted underground tunnel networks.

   Tuesday's deadliest strike hit a main street lined with market stalls 
outside the southern city of Khan Younis in Muwasi, at the heart of the zone 
that is packed with tent camps. Officials at Khan Younis' Nasser Hospital said 
17 people were killed.

   Apparently referring to the strike, the Israeli military said in a statement 
that it targeted a commander in Islamic Jihad's naval unit west of Khan Younis. 
It said it was looking into reports that civilians were killed.

   The attack hit about a kilometer (0.6 miles) from a compound that Israel 
struck on Saturday, saying it was targeting Hamas' top military commander, 
Mohammed Deif. That blast, in an area also surrounded by tents, killed more 
than 90 Palestinians, including children, according to Gaza health officials. 
It is still not known if Deif was killed in the strike.

   The new airstrikes came as Israel and Hamas continued to weigh the latest 
cease-fire proposal. Hamas has said talks meant to wind down the 
nine-month-long war would continue, even after Israel targeted Deif. 
International mediators are working to push Israel and Hamas toward a deal that 
would halt the fighting and free about 120 hostages held by the militant group 
in Gaza.

   Israeli forces have repeatedly had to launch new offensives to combat Hamas 
fighters they say have been regrouping in parts of Gaza that the military has 
previously invaded. Still, the military has sounded increasingly confident that 
it has severely damaged the militants' organization and infrastructure in its 
9-month-old campaign.

   The military said Tuesday that it has eliminated half of the leadership of 
Hamas' military wing and that some 14,000 militants have been killed or 
detained. It said it killed six brigade commanders, over 20 battalion 
commanders, and approximately 150 company commanders from Hamas' ranks, and 
that over the course of the war, it has hit 37,000 targets from the air within 
the Gaza Strip, including more than 25,000 terrorist infrastructure and launch 
sites.

   The figures could not be independently confirmed.

   Israel's ground campaigns have focused on northern Gaza and the southern 
cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, where it says it has destroyed extensive Hamas 
tunnel networks. The offensives have left entire neighborhoods flattened. While 
ground operations continue in Rafah, airstrikes now appear to be hitting 
heavily in the areas untouched by previous offensives in the center and the 
coastal "safe zone."

   Strikes late Monday and on Tuesday hit the Nuseirat and Zawaida refugee 
camps in central Gaza. Strikes on four houses killed at least 24 people, 
including 10 women and four children, according to officials at Al Aqsa 
hospital in the nearby town of Deir al-Balah.

   Another hit a U.N. school in Nuseirat where families were sheltering, 
killing at least nine people. AP footage showed the school's yard covered in 
rubble and twisted metal from a structure that was hit. Workers carried bodies 
wrapped in blankets, as women and children watched from the classrooms where 
they have been living.

   Israel's military said Hamas militants were operating from the school to 
plan attacks. Its claim could not be independently confirmed.

   Other strikes in Khan Younis and Rafah killed 12 people, according to 
medical officials and AP journalists. An AP journalist counted the bodies at 
the hospital before a funeral was held at its gates.

   The military said air force planes struck some 40 targets in Gaza over the 
past day, among them observation posts, Hamas military structures and 
explosives-rigged buildings. Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties 
because the militants operate in densely populated areas.

   The Israeli military said Tuesday that it would begin sending draft notices 
to Jewish ultra-Orthodox men next week -- a step that could destabilize Prime 
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government and trigger more large protests in the 
community. Under long-standing political arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men had 
been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men -- an 
exemption that created resentment among the general public in Israel.

   The war in Gaza, which was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern 
Israel, has killed more than 38,600 people, according to the territory's Health 
Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians in its 
count. The war has created a humanitarian catastrophe in the coastal 
Palestinian territory, displaced most of its 2.3 million population and 
triggered widespread hunger.

   Hamas' October attack killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and militants 
took about 250 hostage. About 120 remain in captivity, with about a third of 
them believed to be dead, according to Israeli authorities.

   Violence has also surged in the West Bank. On Tuesday a Palestinian stabbed 
an Israeli policeman, wounding him lightly, before another officer opened fire, 
killing the assailant who was identified as a 19-year-old from Gaza.

 
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