More than two dozen Gazans killed in Israeli strike as Hamas says truce talks may be in jeopardy

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ramadan Abed

CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) -Palestinian officials said an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza Strip killed more than two dozen people while advancing tanks in Gaza City forced residents to flee under fire as Israel on Tuesday stepped up an offensive that Hamas warned could jeopardise ceasefire talks.

The airstrike hit the tents of displaced families outside a school in the town of Abassan east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, killing at least 29, most of them were women and children, Palestinian medical officials said.

The Israeli military said it was reviewing reports that civilians were harmed. It said the incident occurred when it struck with "precise munition" a Hamas fighter who took part in the Oct. 7 raid on Israel that precipitated the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Ismail Al-Thawabta, director of the Hamas-run Gaza government media office, said Israeli strikes on central Gaza areas killed 60 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others on Tuesday.

Residents said Israeli tanks that pushed into the Tel Al-Hawa, Shejaia and Sabra neighborhoods of Gaza City shelled roads and buildings, forcing them to flee their homes. This was followed by Israeli military orders to evacuate several districts in eastern and western Gaza City posted on social media, which included these neighbourhoods.

"We hold the occupation and the U.S. administration responsible for the horrifying massacres against civilians," said Thawabta in a statement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said early on Wednesday on Facebook that its crews received dozens of humanitarian distress calls from Gaza City but were unable to help due to the intensity of the bombing there.

On Gaza City's front lines, the armed wings of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad said their fighters battled Israeli forces with machine guns, mortar fire and anti-tank missiles and killed and wounded Israeli soldiers.

Israel's military did not comment on casualties but said its soldiers were engaged in close-quarter combat with militants, had taken more than 150 fighters out of action in the last week and destroyed booby-trapped buildings and explosives.

The latest fighting has unfolded as senior U.S. officials were in the region to push for a ceasefire after Hamas made concessions last week. But Israel's renewed campaign threatened talks at a crucial time and could bring negotiations "back to square one", Hamas quoted leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying.

Video on social media showed families packed onto donkey carts and in the backs of trucks piled with mattresses and other belongings making their way through Gaza City's streets to flee areas under Israeli evacuation orders.

"Gaza City is being wiped out. This is what is happening. Israel is forcing us to leave homes under fire," Um Tamer, a mother of seven, told Reuters via a chat app.

She said it was the seventh time her family had fled their house in Gaza City, in the north of the enclave and one of Israel's first targets at the start of the war in October.

"We can't take it anymore, enough of death and humiliation. End the war now," she said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said all of its medical clinics were out of service in Gaza City due to the Israeli evacuation orders that have driven thousands of people westward towards the Mediterranean and to the south.

Nine months of war and displacement have caused a hunger crisis, and the recent deaths of several more children from malnutrition in the Gaza Strip indicate that famine has spread throughout the coastal enclave, a group of independent human rights experts mandated by the United Nations said.

In a Khan Younis hospital, Palestinian woman Ghaneyma Joma told Reuters she feared her son would starve to death.

"It's distressing to see my child...lying there dying from malnutrition because I cannot provide him with anything due to the war, the closing of crossings and the contaminated water," she said, seated on the floor next to her motionless son, who had an intravenous drip attached to his wrist.


In Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike early on Tuesday on a house of several storeys killed 17 people, including 14 children and a woman, Hamas' media office said.

Neighbours rushed to help medics and emergency workers recover bodies and search for survivors under the rubble.

"They were displaced during the night after Al-Nuseirat camp school was hit... They said they would sleep in the house, fearing for the children and there was a massacre in the house. They are not safe in the schools nor the houses," said Yasser Abu Hamada, a local resident.

Across Gaza, more than 40 Palestinians were killed on Tuesday in Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City in the north, Al-Bureij, Deir Al-Balah and Al-Nuseirat in central Gaza and in Rafah in the south, according to medics.

The total Palestinian death toll in the nine-month-long Israeli military offensive reached 38,243, Gaza health officials said in their latest update.

The war erupted when militants led by Hamas infiltrated southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages back to Gaza, according to Israeli figures.

Hopes among Gazans of a pause in the fighting had revived after Hamas last week accepted a key part of a U.S. ceasefire proposal. Qatari and Egyptian mediators, backed by the United States, have accelerated efforts this week and talks will resume in Doha on Wednesday, Egypt's state-affiliated media said.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Ari Rabinovitch and Stephen Scheer in Jerusalem, Clauda Tanios and Tala Ramadan in Dubai, Emma Farge in Geneva; writing by Ros Russell; editing by Angus MacSwan, Mark Heinrich, Cynthia Osterman and Deepa Babington)