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Israeli bombardment kills dozens across Gaza, amid fierce fighting

ISRAELI forces pounded Rafah in southern Gaza as well as other areas across the enclave, killing at least 38 Palestinians as troops engaged in close-quarter combat with Hamas militants, residents and Israel’s military said.

Residents said the Israelis appeared to be trying to complete their capture of Rafah, which borders Egypt and has been the focus of an Israeli assault since early May.

Tanks were forcing their way into the western and northern parts of the city, having already captured the east, south and centre. Israeli forces fired from planes, tanks and ships off the coast, forcing a new wave of displacement from the city, which had been sheltering more than a million displaced people, most of whom have been forced to flee again.

Later on Friday, Palestinian health officials said at least 18 Palestinians were killed in Mawasi in western Rafah in what Palestinians said was a tank shelling that hit a tent housing displaced families.

“Our teams have so far dealt with 18 martyrs and 35 injuries due to the occupation’s targeting of displaced people’s tents in Mawasi #Rafah, west of the governorate,” said the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in a statement on X.

Palestinian health officials said at least 38 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli military strikes on Friday.

The Israeli military said on Friday it was looking into the reported strikes on Mawasi and a separate incident in Gaza City.

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It said its forces were conducting “precise, intelligence-based” actions in the Rafah area, where troops were involved in close-quarter combat and had located tunnels used by militants.

The military also said that over the past week, its forces had targeted a university that it said served as a Hamas headquarters from which militants fired on its soldiers and had found weapons and barrel bombs. It did not name the university.

In the central Gaza Strip area of Nusseirat, the military said, soldiers killed dozens of militants over the past week and found a weapons depot that contained mortar bombs and military equipment belonging to Hamas.

Some Rafah residents said the pace of the Israeli raid has accelerated in the past two days. They said sounds of explosions and gunfire, indicating fierce fighting, have been almost non-stop.

“Last night was one of the worst nights in western Rafah, drones, planes, tanks, and naval boats bombarded the area. We feel the occupation is trying to complete the control of the city,” said Hatem, 45, reached by text message.

“They are taking heavy strikes from the resistance fighters, which may be slowing them down.”

AREAS OF FOCUS

More than eight months into the war in Gaza, Israel’s advance is now focused on the two last areas its forces had yet to storm: Rafah on Gaza’s southern edge and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the centre.

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“The entire city of Rafah is an area of Israeli military operations,” Ahmed Al-Sofi, the mayor of Rafah, said in a statement carried by Hamas media on Friday.

“The city lives through a humanitarian catastrophe and people are dying inside their tents because of Israeli bombardment,” he added.

Sofi said there was no medical facility functioning in the city, and that remaining residents and displaced families lacked the minimum daily needs of food and water.

Palestinian and U.N. figures show that fewer than 100,000 people may have remained in the far western side of the city, which had been sheltering more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people before the Israeli assault began in early May.

The Israeli military accused Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, an allegation Hamas denies.

“The soldiers located inside a civilian residence large quantities of weapons hidden in wardrobes, including grenades, explosives, a launcher and anti-tank missiles, ammunition, and arms,” the military said in a statement late on Thursday.

Hamas’ armed wing said on Thursday its fighters had hit two Israeli tanks with anti-tank rockets in the Shaboura camp in Rafah, and killed soldiers who tried to flee through the alleys. There was no immediate Israeli comment on the Hamas claim.

In nearby Khan Younis, an Israeli air strike on Friday killed three people, including a father and son, medics said.

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In parallel, Israeli forces continued a new pushback into some Gaza City suburbs in the north of the enclave, where they fought with Hamas-led militants. Residents said army forces had destroyed many homes in the heart of Gaza City on Thursday.

Later on Friday, an Israeli air strike on a Gaza City municipal facility killed five people, including four municipal workers, the territory’s Civil Emergency Service said. It added that rescue teams were searching the rubble for more missing victims.

In the nearby Beach camp, an Israeli air strike on a house killed at least seven people, medics said.

Israel’s ground and air campaign was triggered when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The offensive has left Gaza in ruins, killed more than 37,400 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left nearly the entire population homeless and destitute.

By NIDAL AL-MUGHRABI

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