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A view of the destroyed buildings and rubble after the Israeli military withdrew from the Shujaiya neighbourhood, east of Gaza City on July 10, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

GAZA CITY: Fighting and bombardment shook Gaza’s biggest city on Thursday, an AFP correspondent said, even after Israel’s military declared an end to its operation in an eastern district that saw Gaza City’s heaviest combat in months.

The upsurge in fighting, bombardment and displacement followed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement in late June that “the war in its intense phase is about to end”.

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It also came as talks were held in Qatar towards a truce and hostage release deal after more than nine months of war.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said troops had pulled back from Gaza City’s eastern district of Shujaiya, leaving “more than 300 residential units and more than 100 businesses destroyed”,

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Witnesses said tanks and troops had moved into other Gaza City districts. An AFP correspondent reported air strikes on the Sabra neighbourhood while militants engaged in heavy clashes with Israeli forces in Tel al-Hawa.

Explosions and orange flashes shook the darkened city before daylight brought automatic weapons fire, AFPTV images showed.

Hamas reported 45 air strikes in the Gaza City area, as well as in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where Netanyahu had said the intense phase of the war was nearing its conclusion.

‘Red lines’

Netanyahu’s office confirmed that its negotiating team, led by Mossad intelligence chief David Barnea, had returned to Israel following talks with mediators in Doha on Thursday.

A new delegation will head to Cairo on Thursday evening “to continue the talks”, his office said.

During the talks, “the chapters of the deal for the return of the hostages and the ways to implement the outline were discussed,” it said.

Separately, Hamas said it had not been informed “of any new developments” from the latest talks and accused Israel of “delaying tactics” aimed at “sabotaging” truce efforts.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post had reported that both Israel and Hamas had “signalled their acceptance of an ‘interim governance’ plan” in which neither would rule the territory and a US-trained force of Palestinian Authority supporters would provide security.

Netanyahu separately met US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk.

The Israeli prime minister “emphasised his commitment” to a proposed truce plan, “as long as Israel’s red lines are preserved”, his office said.

Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that sparked the war resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.

Israel responded with a military offensive that has killed at least 38,345 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to figures from Gaza’s health ministry.

The latest toll included 50 new deaths over the previous 24 hours, it said.

‘Dangerous combat zone’

On Wednesday, the Israeli army dropped leaflets warning “everyone in Gaza City” that it would “remain a dangerous combat zone”.

The leaflets urged residents to flee, and set out designated escape routes from the area where the UN humanitarian office said up to 350,000 people had been shletering.

The United Nations said the latest evacuations “will only fuel mass suffering for Palestinian families, many of whom have been displaced many times”, and who face “critical levels of need”.

An Israeli government spokesman said the aim was “to put civilians out of harm’s way” as troops battle militants.

Hamas official Hossam Badran told AFP that Israel was “hoping that the resistance will relinquish its legitimate demands” in truce negotiations.

But “the continuation of massacres compels us to adhere to our demands”, he said.

The Israeli military had said in January that it had dismantled Hamas’s “military framework” in northern Gaza, including Gaza City.

Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas, a goal whose viability has been questioned by critics both in Israel and abroad.

Israel’s military said on Wednesday it had completed its mission in Shujaiya after two weeks.

AFPTV images showed Palestinians gathered around a burned out armoured vehicle beneath a fire-blackened building.

Standing nearby, Mohammed Nairi said he and other residents returned to “immense destruction that defies description. All the houses were demolished.”

Another displaced resident, a can of food tucked under her arm, said the district “lies in ruins.”

Gaza’s civil defence agency said around 60 bodies had been found in the ruins of Shujaiya.

“Once the Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the Shujaiya neighbourhood, civil defence crews, with local residents, managed to recover about 60 martyrs up to now,” agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal said.

Israel’s military said operations were also continuing in the Rafah area of southern Gaza where “dozens” of militants were killed over the past day.

The military said it responded with air and ground strikes after five rockets were fired from the area towards Israel on Thursday.

Meanwhile, in Israel, demonstrations demanding a deal to free the hostages have intensified. Relatives of Israeli hostages are on a four-day march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“We want all of Israel to come out with us” and “remind Netanyahu that... he needs to sign a deal to bring them back and stop this terrible war,” said Ayala Metzger, daughter-in-law of hostage Yoram Metzger, 80, who died in captivity.