Fighting intensifies between Israeli forces and Hamas after nearly 200 people were killed in Gaza

Written by Nidal Al-Mughrabi and Arafat Barbakh

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – Heavy Israeli tank fire and aerial bombardment hit the city of Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip on Friday night, residents said, after about 200 people were reported killed within 24 hours in the Israeli campaign against Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) activists.

Airplanes also carried out a series of air strikes on the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian medics and journalists.

Israeli forces are bombing the city of Khan Yunis in preparation for the expected advance in the main southern city, which they controlled areas of in early December.

Defense Minister Yoav Galant said that the forces reached Hamas command centers and weapons depots. The Israeli army said it destroyed a tunnel complex in the basement of one of the homes of Hamas leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, in Gaza City.

Twelve weeks after Hamas fighters stormed Israeli towns, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage, Israeli forces have destroyed much of the Gaza Strip as they continue their war to eliminate the Islamist group.

Nearly all of Gaza's 2.3 million residents have fled their homes at least once, and many are on the move again, often forced to take shelter in makeshift tents or huddled under tarpaulins and plastic sheeting on open ground.

The narrow coastline is only 40 kilometers (25 mi) long, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

Gaza health authorities said 187 Palestinians were confirmed killed in Israeli raids within 24 hours, bringing the total death toll to 21,507 – about 1% of Gaza's population. It is feared that thousands of other bodies will be buried under the rubble of the living.

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A Palestinian journalist was killed

Health sector officials and fellow journalists said that a Palestinian journalist working for Al-Quds Satellite Channel was killed along with some members of his family in an air strike on their home in the Nuseirat camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The government media office in Gaza said that 106 Palestinian journalists were killed in the Israeli attack.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said last week that the first 10 weeks of the war between Israel and Gaza were the bloodiest for journalists, with the highest number of journalists killed in a single year in one place.

Most of the journalists and media workers killed in the war were Palestinians. The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists' report said it was “particularly concerned by the clear pattern of targeting of journalists and their families by the Israeli military.”

Earlier this month, a Reuters investigation concluded that an Israeli tank crew killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdullah and wounded six journalists in Lebanon on October 13 by firing two shells in quick succession while the journalists were filming a cross-border bombing.

Israel said earlier that it has not and will not deliberately target journalists, and that it is doing everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties, but the high death toll has raised concern even among its strongest allies.

The United States called on Israel to reduce the war in the coming weeks and move to operations targeting Hamas leaders, although it has so far shown no sign of doing so.

South Africa asked the International Court of Justice on Friday to issue an urgent order declaring that Israel had violated its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention in its campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

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It called on the court to issue short-term measures ordering Israel to halt its military campaign “to protect the rights of the Palestinian people from further severe and irreparable harm.”

No date has been set for the hearing.

In response, the Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Hamas of being responsible for the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza by using them as human shields and stealing humanitarian aid from them. Hamas denies such accusations.

Israel helps deliver vaccines to Gaza

Israel said on Friday it had facilitated the entry of enough vaccines to vaccinate nearly 1.4 million people against diseases including polio, tuberculosis, hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and meningitis.

A statement issued by the Office for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories, the Defense Ministry agency that coordinates with the Palestinians, said that the vaccine transfer process had been coordinated with UNICEF, in order to prevent the spread of the disease in the Strip.

Gaza depends almost entirely on food, fuel and medical supplies from abroad, and Israel has only limited access to the southern end of the Strip. International agencies say the supplies arriving through Israeli inspections represent a small portion of Gaza's needs.

Last week, Israel bowed to international pressure to open a second crossing that it said would double the number of supply trucks per day to 200, but only 76 were able to enter on Thursday, according to the United Nations, compared to 500 in peacetime.

An Israeli government spokesman said on Friday that the government does not impose restrictions on humanitarian aid and that the problem lies in its distribution inside Gaza.

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(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo and Arafat Barbakh in Gaza; Writing by Daphne Psalidakis and Kim Coghill; Editing by Grant McCall and Neil Volek)

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