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Israeli forces battered targets in densely populated southern Gaza on the second morning of renewed fighting with Palestinian militants on Saturday after a truce broke down.
The latest round of hostilities has killed at least 178 people in Gaza, Palestinian health officials said on Friday night, ending a weeklong pause during which both sides released women and children and aid convoys entered the besieged enclave.
Israel’s military said it had hit multiple “terror targets” in northern Gaza, including a mosque being used as a command centre by militants. It added that its jets “struck over 50 targets in the area of Khan Younis” in southern Gaza overnight. The south is packed with civilians who had fled the intense fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in the strip’s north, where about half the buildings have been damaged.
Israel Defense Forces had sent text messages and dropped leaflets on Friday telling people in areas east of Khan Younis to leave for Rafah, near Gaza’s border with Egypt.
However “no major displacement from these areas has been reported”, said the UN’s humanitarian co-ordination office on Friday evening, while Rafah was hit by at least one Israeli air strike on Friday morning.
The UN added that an online map published by the IDF, which divides Gaza into pockets of land to explain where civilians should leave, “does not specify where people should evacuate to”.
On Saturday morning, sirens sounded across Israeli communities near Gaza, the IDF said, after Palestinian militant groups restarted rocket launches across the border.
The families of hostages have vowed to keep pressing for their release, with one relative calling the truce’s end on Friday “a huge disappointment”. The IDF has notified the families of seven people killed in captivity in Gaza.
Hamas kidnapped 240 people and killed 1,200 more in a brutal attack on southern Israel on October 7, triggering a ferocious response from Israel that has killed more than 14,800 people, according to Palestinian health officials.
Aid officials have repeatedly warned that the fighting and weeks-long blockade of the strip have created a humanitarian crisis for Gaza’s 2.3mn people.
Civilians in Gaza “have nowhere safe to go and very little to survive on”, said Martin Griffiths, a senior UN official for humanitarian affairs. “They live surrounded by disease, destruction and death”.
Aid convoys waited on the Egyptian side of the single functioning border with Gaza but did not cross on Friday, the UN reported.
Israel and Hamas have blamed each other for the breakdown of the internationally brokered truce, under which Hamas freed around 100 Israeli and foreign hostages while Israel released about 240 Palestinians held in its prisons.
Western allies have pressured Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said in Dubai that he had “made clear that, after a pause, it was imperative that Israel put in place clear protections for civilians and for sustaining humanitarian assistance”. He added that Hamas was to blame for the breakdown of the truce.