Israeli military intelligence chief resigns as Gaza pounded

IDF Military Intelligence chief Aharon Haliva. [IDF]

Israel's military intelligence chief has resigned after taking responsibility for failures leading to the Hamas attack on October 7, the military said on Monday, as Israel carried out more shelling in war-battered Gaza overnight.

General Aharon Haliva is the first top Israeli official to step down for failing to prevent the Hamas attack, which triggered the war in Gaza and brought the government and military under intense scrutiny in Israel.

"The intelligence division under my command did not live up to the task we were entrusted with," Haliva said in his resignation letter. "I carry that black day with me ever since."

Israel has meanwhile lashed out at reports that its top ally the United States was considering sanctioning the military's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda battalion over alleged human rights abuses in the West Bank from before the war.

"At a time when our soldiers are fighting the monsters of terror, the intention to impose a sanction on a unit in the IDF (army) is the height of absurdity and a moral low," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on X.

Netanyahu said late Sunday that the Israeli military would increase military pressure to "deliver additional and painful blows" to Hamas in the coming days, without elaborating further.

The prime minister has repeatedly said Israel will launch a ground assault on Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, despite international concern about the majority of the territory's population who have taken refuge there.

Passover marks 200 days

The promise of more military pressure came amid growing global opposition to Israel's offensive in Gaza, which has turned vasts areas of the territory into rubble and sparked a dire humanitarian crisis including fears of famine.

Gaza was hit by heavy shelling overnight, with strikes reported in several areas in the centre and south of the besieged territory, an AFP correspondent said Monday.

Doctors at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in the Gaza city of Deir El Balah told AFP that six people were wounded in an Israeli airstrike in central Gaza, while three more were injured by a separate strike on the Al-Bureij refugee camp.

Israel's allies including Washington have warned against sending troops into Rafah, fearing huge civilian casualties in the only major Gaza city yet to be invaded during the offensive.

More than 1.5 million of the 2.4 million Palestinians in Gaza are estimated to have taken refuge in Rafah. However thousands are believed to have headed north since Israel withdrew most of its troops from Gaza earlier this month.

The Israeli army has said the city is Hamas's last major stronghold and that some of the hostages taken on October 7 were being held there.

This week, during the Jewish holiday of Passover which begins on Monday night, "it will be 200 days of captivity for the hostages," Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said.

"The chief of staff has approved the next steps for the war," he added, without offering details.

At least 16 people, mostly children, were killed in Israeli strikes on two Rafah homes over the weekend, according to Gaza's civil defence agency.

Gaza's crossings and borders authority meanwhile said that 34 Palestinian detainees had been released from Israeli prison since Monday morning. Authority spokesman Hisham Adwan said some of the prisoners showed "signs of torture".

In the main southern city of Khan Yunis, Gaza's civil defence agency said on Sunday that its teams had discovered at least 50 bodies buried in the courtyard of a hospital previously raided by Israel.

Spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP that the agency was "waiting for all graves to be exhumed in order to give a final number" of bodies unearthed from the courtyard of the Nasser Medical Complex.

Israel's military said it was checking the reports.

West Bank violence

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has surged since the Gaza war began, a funeral procession was held on Sunday for 13 Palestinians killed during an Israeli raid on the Nur Shams refugee camp.

The Israeli army said it had killed 10 militants in a three-day "counterterrorism" raid on Nur Shams, but residents in the camp gave a different account.

Niaz Zandeq, 40, said his son Jehad was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on his 15th birthday.

Neighbours said troops told Jehad to leave his uncle's house.

"The minute he came out, they opened fire, hitting him directly in the head," Zandeq said through tears. "He was unarmed."

The Israeli army has not responded to residents' allegations.

The army also said a suspect has been arrested over the death of Israeli teenager Benjamin Achimeir, whose disappearance sparked violent raids in the West Bank earlier this month.

In Jerusalem, two civilians received minor injuries in a car-ramming attack on Monday. Israeli police said they had arrested two suspects who fled the scene on foot.

Hamas's October 7 attack that triggered the Gaza war resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,151 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

Israel estimates that 129 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

Some relatives of the hostages have urged families celebrating Passover to leave an empty chair at their seder table with a picture of a hostage.

"How can we celebrate such a holiday while ... people are still without their freedom, still waiting to be liberated?" asked Mai Albini, whose grandfather Chaim Peri was taken hostage on October 7.