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Israel engaged in fierce battles with Hamas militants and advanced on Gaza’s main city on Tuesday, as dozens of deaths were reported in a blast at the enclave’s largest refugee camp.
Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles advanced on Gaza City, which Israel says is Hamas’s command hub. The push came as the UN warned that Gaza was becoming a “living hell”.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, described the land offensive as a “difficult campaign involving fierce combat”. He added: “There is no fighting without a painful price.”
Reports from Gaza said dozens of people had been killed after a blast at the Jabalia refugee camp in the north of the territory.
The director of Gaza’s Indonesian Hospital told the TV station Al Jazeera that more than 50 Palestinians were killed and 150 wounded by Israeli air strikes on a densely populated area of the camp.
Video footage published on the Telegram channel of the Palestinian interior ministry in Gaza showed a huge smouldering crater and crowds digging through the rubble in a search for survivors.
The Israel Defense Forces later said the blast in Jabalia was caused by an Israeli air strike that killed a senior Hamas commander.
IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said the strike caused several buildings to come down. “All this infrastructure collapsed and many terrorists died,” he added, saying Hamas militants were “continuing to use the population as human shields”.
António Guterres, UN secretary-general, said on the social media platform X that he was “deeply alarmed by the intensification of the conflict”.
Military officials said earlier that the IDF had struck about 300 targets in 24 hours, including anti-tank missile and rocket-launch posts and military compounds inside underground tunnels.
Israel has been reluctant to provide specifics about the extent of its invasion, which began on Friday.
But officials in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group, told the Financial Times that tens of Israeli tanks had been trying to advance under air cover in north-west Gaza and south of Gaza City amid bitter fighting.
The Hamas-controlled interior ministry in Gaza said Israeli forces had reached the Karama area to the north of Gaza City and had tanks on Salah al-Din street, the main inland north-south axis in the enclave.
Hamas said it had attacked two Israeli tanks and bulldozers in north-west Gaza and Israeli infantry troops near the Kerem Shalom crossing in the south of the strip. It added that Israel was “trying to separate the north of Gaza from its south”.
The IDF confirmed two of its soldiers were killed in Gaza on Tuesday in fighting over control of a Hamas stronghold in the west of Jabalia town, which it said was used “to train [Hamas operatives] for terror operations”.
Asked by journalists if Israel would pivot to an attack on the south of Gaza after finishing its operations in the north, Hanegbi said: “The south’s turn will come, the centre’s turn will come. Everything in its time.”
Unicef, the UN’s children’s fund, said on Tuesday that the enclave had become “a graveyard for thousands of children”, and a “living hell for everyone else”. It added that Gaza was now providing only 5 per cent of its normal output of water and that infant deaths because of dehydration were a growing threat.
More than 8,500 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment of the strip, according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, and more than 21,000 have been injured.
More than 1,400 people died in Hamas’s bloody October 7 attack on Israel that triggered the war, according to Israeli officials.
In a sign of the risk of the conflict spreading across the region, the Israeli military said on Tuesday it had intercepted a surface-to-surface missile fired towards the southern city of Eilat “from the area of the Red Sea”.
The Houthis, an Iran-aligned rebel movement that controls northern Yemen, later said they had launched a “large number of missiles and drones” on Israeli targets.
They added that it was their third such attack and that they would conduct others, calling on “the Arab and Islamic peoples [to] come to the aid of Gaza and its children and women”.
The IDF said there had been “no threat or risk to civilians”.
A senior UN official also warned this week that the war’s “spillover into Syria . . . has already begun”.
Addressing the Security Council, Geir Pedersen, the UN envoy for Syria, pointed to recent air strikes on airports in Aleppo and Damascus, widely believed to have been carried out by Israeli forces. He also noted retaliation by the US for what it said were multiple attacks on its forces “by groups that it claims are backed by Iran, including on Syrian territory”.
In addition, the Israel-Hamas conflict has led to a flare-up in hostilities on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where IDF units have been engaged in escalating cross-border fire with the Iran-backed militant group Hizbollah in recent weeks.
Additional reporting by Samer Al-Atrush, Raya Jalabi and Simeon Kerr