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Israel shells southern Gaza as Hamas deputy buried in Lebanon

ISRAELI shelling killed more than 20 Palestinians, including 16 in Khan Younis in a southern coastal area of the Gaza Strip packed with people who had fled from other parts of the enclave, Gaza health officials said.

Among the dead were nine children, they said. Separately five Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike on a car in Al-Nusseirat refugee camp, health officials told Reuters. Gaza residents said Israeli planes and tanks had also bombarded two other refugee camps, prompting many to head south.

The Israeli military did not comment on the attacks but reported fighting and air strikes against Hamas militants in the Khan Younis area on Thursday.

Israel’s war against Hamas is nearing the three-month mark amid international concern that the conflict is spreading beyond Gaza, drawing in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hezbollah forces on the Lebanon-Israel border, and Red Sea shipping lanes.

This concern grew after a drone strike on Tuesday killed Hamas deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital Beirut. He was buried in the Palestinian camp of Shatila in the city on Thursday, amid throngs of mourners launching volleys of gunfire.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed on Wednesday that his powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite militia “cannot be silent” following the killing. Nasrallah said his forces would fight to the finish if Israel chose to extend the war to Lebanon, but he made no concrete threats to act against Israel in support of Hamas.

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Hezbollah has been embroiled in nearly daily exchanges of shelling with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since the Gaza war began.

Israel neither confirmed nor denied assassinating Arouri. It has promised to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, following the group’s assault in southern Israel on October 7 in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and some 240 were abducted.

Israel’s ground and air blitz has laid waste to Gaza. The total recorded Palestinian death toll had reached 22,438 by Thursday – almost 1% of its 2.3 million population, the Gaza health ministry said. Some 125 of these were killed in the past 24 hours, it said.

Israel has said it has killed 8,000 fighters in Gaza.

Adding to the violence in the region, two explosions on Wednesday killed nearly 100 people during a memorial ceremony for the late Iranian General Qasem Soleimani at the cemetery in southeastern Iran where he is buried. The militant Sunni Muslim group Islamic State claimed responsibility.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was set to travel on Thursday for a week of diplomacy around the Middle East, the State Department said, adding he would discuss steps parties in the region could take to prevent the conflict from expanding.

GAZA BLOODSHED

In Thursday’s reported strike in Al-Mawasi on the western side of Khan Younis, Israeli shells landed near tents erected in the area by displaced people, health ministry officials said.

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Footage on Palestinian media showed several bodies wrapped in blankets inside a hospital morgue in Khan Younis.

“Nowhere is safe in Gaza. Wherever you go, there are strikes. In the country, next to the camps, in Al-Mawasi. There is no safe space,” said Bahaa Abu Hatab, the brother of one of the dead.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its headquarters in Khan Younis was hit, killing one person and wounding others.

In its daily briefing, the Israeli military said Israeli warplanes killed three Hamas militants who had tried to detonate explosive next to ground troops, and Israeli soldiers killed two more.

Later the military said soldiers had destroyed an underground military compound on the Gaza Strip coast.

“Forces identified several tunnel shafts leading to a network of hundreds of meters of Hamas terror tunnels… during the searches, the soldiers found a weapons cache which included mortars, grenades, and RPG missiles,” it said in a statement.

MUD ADDS TO MISERY

Israeli bombardments have flattened much of the densely populated enclave and created a humanitarian disaster. Most Gazans have been left homeless, with food shortages threatening famine.

On Thursday, people poured out of Al-Bureij, Al-Maghazi and Al-Nusseirat refugee camps following attacks, with some families riding on donkey carts loaded with mattresses, luggage and children. Rain has turned earth to mud, adding to the misery.

“Israel is showing its muscles on civilians, women and children. They are cowards,” said Salama Ahmed, 49, a north Gaza resident and father of five heading to Rafah in the south.

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“…Are they fighting Hamas? They are fighting the unarmed civilians,” he told Reuters.

Over the course of the war, the Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths but it accuses Hamas of operating in densely populated areas and using civilians as human shields, a charge the group denies.

Israel’s longer term plans for the enclave are unclear. Foreign governments and organisations have said any solution must address Palestinian aspirations for an independent state, but that seems distant.

In the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians also seek statehood, Israeli forces searched houses in the Nour al-Shams refugee camp in Tulkarm city on Thursday.

Residents said troops detained at least 120 people and demolished three houses, including one belonging to a member of the Tulkarm Brigades, a militant group linked to the Palestinian faction Fatah.

By MOHAMMAD AZAKIR, NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI and ARAFAT BARBAKH

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