Israeli forces push deeper into southern and northern Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Doaa Rouqa

CAIRO7/GAZA (Reuters) -Israeli forces pressed their incursion deeper into two northern and southern areas of the Gaza Strip on Friday, and Palestinian health officials said tank shelling in Rafah killed at least 11 people.

Residents and Hamas media said tanks advanced further west into the Shakoush neighbourhood of Rafah, forcing thousands of displaced people there to leave their tent camps and head northward to the nearby Khan Younis.

The Israeli military did not immediately comment.

Since May 7, tanks have advanced in several districts of Rafah, and forces remained in control of the entire border line with Egypt and the Rafah crossing, the only gateway for most of Gaza's 2.3 million people with the outside world.

One resident, who spoke to Reuters via a chat app, said some bulldozers in the Shakoush area were piling up sand for Israeli tanks to station behind.

"Some families live in the area of the raid and are now besieged by the occupation forces," he told Reuters.

"The situation there is very dangerous and many families are leaving towards Khan Younis, even from the Mawasi area as things became unsafe for them," said the man, who moved northward overnight.

More than eight months into Israel's air and ground war in Gaza triggered by the Hamas-led cross-border attack on Oct. 7, the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad continue to stage attacks on Israeli forces operating in areas over which the army said it had gained control months ago. The Palestinian groups sometimes still fire rockets into Israeli territory.

In a yard at the Al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, mourners gathered with 10-year-old Belal Abu Hassanein, whose mother and brother were killed in an air strike that hit their house.

"I went to check out our rooftop, they struck us, I was bombed - I flew off the rooftop and fell," said Belal, who was laid on a hospital stretcher after being wounded in the attack.

"My grandfather started screaming ... He was telling us that there was a hit at our place. When I heard the word hit, I went to check the room in which I was sleeping," he said. "I found that my mother and brother had been martyred."

CEASEFIRE EFFORTS STALLED

Arab mediators' efforts, backed by the United States, have so far failed to conclude a ceasefire. Hamas says any deal must end the war and bring full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, while Israel says it will accept only temporary pauses in fighting until Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, is eradicated.

When Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel last October they killed around 1,200 people and seized more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

The Israeli offensive in retaliation has so far killed more than 37,000 people, according to the Gaza health ministry, and has left the tiny, heavily built-up coastal enclave in ruins.

In parallel, Israeli forces continued their new raid into the Shejaia neighbourhood in the northern Gaza Strip, into which tanks advanced on Thursday prompting heavy fighting with Hamas-led militants.

Medics said earlier that several Palestinians have been killed and wounded in Israeli bombardment and that medical teams have been unable to reach all casualties because of the military offensive.

The Israeli military said forces were conducting "targeted" raids in Shejaia, adding that the air force struck dozens of Hamas military targets in the area.

It said that one Hamas militant, who was operating from a humanitarian-designated area, was killed in a strike it launched in the Deir Al-Balah area in central Gaza. It said measures were taken to ensure no harm to civilians, accusing Hamas of systematically using Palestinian civilians as shields. Hamas denies that.

(Reporting and writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, with additional reporting by Doaa Rouqa in Gaza Strip and Emily Rose in Jerusalem; editing by Alex Richardson)