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Israel hits Gaza as tensions surge on Lebanon border

Asia

 

 The father of Mohammad al-Habil weeps with his relatives after his son was killed with his uncle, Abdul Muti al-Habil, in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, June 14, 2024. [AP Photo]

Israeli forces struck Gaza and battled Hamas militants Friday as truce efforts failed to make progress and tensions surged on Israel's northern border with Lebanon.

Witnesses reported strikes on the southern city of Rafah and central areas of the Gaza Strip.

At Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah, men gathered over the body of an 11-year-old boy who died during a bombardment of nearby Bureij refugee camp.

In a black singlet, the child lay on a floor smeared with fresh blood, a white bandage covering the top half of his face, AFP images showed.

The Israeli military said troops continued operations in central Gaza, where warplanes struck a militant cell in the Zeitun area.

Witnesses in Rafah, on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, reported helicopter fire, while Hamas's armed wing said its militants fired mortar rounds at Israeli troops near the Tal al-Sultan neighborhood.

The war began after Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized 251 hostages. Of these, 116 remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,266 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-ruled territory's health ministry.

The toll includes at least 34 deaths over the past 24 hours, the ministry said Friday.

Border escalation

Fears of a broader Middle East conflict have surged again,  with Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters, who are backed by Iran and allied with Hamas, launching waves of rockets, missiles and drones against Israeli military targets.

Hezbollah said intense strikes since Wednesday were retaliation for Israel's killing of one of its commanders.

Sirens sounded in northern Israel, where police said munitions had hit in the Kiryat Shmona area, with no reports of casualties.

The military said, "approximately 35 projectiles were identified crossing from Lebanon." "A number" of them were intercepted while some caused fires.

Israeli forces responded with shelling, the military said, also announcing air strikes on "Hezbollah terror infrastructure" across the border.

Two women were killed in a strike on Jannata in southern Lebanon, village official Hassan Shur said, the latest deaths in near-daily exchanges of fire between Hezbollah and the Israeli military since the start of the Gaza war.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that his country and the United States would work separately with Israeli and Lebanese authorities to ease tensions.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant rejected the initiative, decrying "hostile policies against Israel" by France, which last month had barred Israeli firms from an arms trade show.

A spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister's office and senior foreign ministry officials however said Gallant's remarks do not reflect the government's position.

During a Middle East trip this week to push a Gaza cease-fire plan, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "the best way" to help resolve the Hezbollah-Israel violence was "a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting a cease-fire."

Truce 'hang-up'

At a summit of G7 leaders in Italy, U.S. President Joe Biden called Hamas "the biggest hang-up so far" to reaching a deal on a Gaza truce and hostage release.

The Palestinian group has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent cease-fire, demands Israel has repeatedly rejected.

Blinken has said Israel backs the latest plan, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition partners are strongly opposed, has not publicly endorsed it.

Biden's roadmap for the first truce since a weeklong pause and hostage-prisoner release in November includes a six-week cease-fire, hostage releases and Gaza's reconstruction.

The World Food Program said that "as fighting escalates in the south and center of Gaza, the toll on civilians is devastating."

But "with lawlessness inside the Strip... and active conflict," it has become "close to impossible to deliver the level of aid that meets the growing demands on the ground," the U.N. agency's deputy executive director, Carl Skau, said.

"More than anything, people want this war to end," Skau added in a statement after a two-day visit to Gaza.

The World Health Organization has said more than 8,000 children younger than 5 have been treated for acute malnutrition in Gaza.

AFP images from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital showed the grieving family of a 10-year-old boy who died suffering from malnutrition. His limbs appeared thin and his ribcage was clearly visible.

US sanctions

The United States, Israel's close ally, imposed sanctions Friday on an Israeli group whose activists have blocked Gaza-bound aid convoys.

"Individuals from Tzav 9 have repeatedly sought to thwart the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, including by blockading roads, sometimes violently," the U.S. State Department said.

"They also have damaged aid trucks and dumped life-saving humanitarian aid onto the road."

G7 leaders in a statement at the end of their summit urged the "rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief for civilians in need," and said the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, must be allowed to work unhindered in Gaza.

Israel had accused 12 of the agency's 13,000 Gaza staff of involvement in the October 7 attack, prompting a number of donor governments to temporarily suspend their contributions. An independent review said Israel did not support its claims with evidence.

The G7 statement also called for aid flow through "all relevant land crossing points" including the Rafah border, which has been shut since Israeli forces launched a ground operation in the city in early May.

As Muslims worldwide prepare to mark Eid al-Adha starting Sunday, Gazans lamented the shortages of essential goods.

"There is n Eid spirit," Mohammed Shabat, who like most of Gaza's population has been displaced by the war, said outside his tent in Deir al-Balah.

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