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Israel broadens assault into central Gaza, martyred Palestinians' toll increases to 20,057

Israel broadens assault into central Gaza, martyred Palestinians' toll increases to 20,057
December 22, 2023 Web Desk

CAIRO/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli forces signalled they were widening their ground offensive with a new push into central Gaza on Friday, as the UN Security Council was expected to vote on a resolution to increase humanitarian aid to stave off the threat of famine.

As hopes faded for an imminent breakthrough in talks this week in Egypt aimed at getting warring Israel and Hamas to agree to a new truce, air strikes, artillery bombardments and fighting were reported across the Palestinian enclave. Israel's military on Friday ordered residents of Al-Bureij, in central Gaza, to move south immediately, indicating a new focus of the ground assault that has already devastated the north of the Strip and made a series of incursions in the south.

The soaring death toll during the Israeli military campaign of retaliation has drawn increasing international criticism, even from staunch ally the United States. In its latest update on casualties, Gaza's health ministry said 20,057 Palestinians had been martyred and 53,320 wounded in Israeli strikes since Oct. 7. Israel says 140 of its soldiers have been killed since it launched its ground incursion into Gaza on Oct. 20.

UNRELENTING WAR

In the latest accounts of fighting on Friday, residents reported Israeli tank shelling of eastern areas of Al-Bureij, the subject of the latest military evacuation order. Israeli forces have previously engaged with Hamas gunmen on the edges of Al-Bureij but have yet to thrust deeper into the built-up area, which grew out of a camp for Palestinian refugees from the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.

Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported heavy shelling and air strikes on Jabalia al-Balad and Jabalia refugee camp, in northern Gaza, and that Israeli vehicles were trying to advance from the western side of Jabalia amid the sound of gunfire.

Air strikes were also reported in Khan Yunis and Rafah, in the south. The Israeli military said in a statement its air force destroyed a long-range missile launch site in Juhor ad-Dik, central Gaza, from which, it said, "recent launches into Israeli territory were carried out" - a possible reference to an attack on Tel Aviv on Thursday. The war in Gaza has fuelled tensions at other regional faultlines. Israel and Hezbollah have repeatedly traded fire across Israel's northern border with Lebanon, and Houthi militants of Yemen, also Iran-backed, have attacked ships in the lower Red Sea, increasing the risks of trade disruption.

Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority dominated by Hamas rivals Fatah has limited self-rule. Around the Al Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, there were calls for worshippers to attend Friday prayers outside in defiance of orders that for weeks have limited access to the flashpoint site to women and the elderly.

Islam's third holiest site, built on ground revered by Jews who know it as Temple Mount, has long been at the heart of tensions between Jews and Muslims. Some mosques in East Jerusalem closed their doors on Friday and urged people to go to Al Aqsa and pray at the gates of the mosque 'to break the siege'. Police fired smoke to disperse small groups of youths who gathered near the Old City and at mosques in East Jerusalem but police also distributed footage showing worshippers arriving calmly.