2023 gaza strike
Israeli forces' flares light up the night sky in northern Gaza Strip, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023. Image Credit: AP

Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories: Israel pressed its war to crush Hamas on Sunday nearly a month after the deadliest attack in the country's history as the Palestinian militant group said strikes on a central Gaza refugee camp killed dozens.

Ground battles raged in the north of the densely populated Gaza Strip, despite calls for a ceasefire from Arab countries and from desperate civilians after 30 days of a war that has killed thousands, mostly civilians.

Israeli troops were seen engaged in house-to-house battles as tanks and armoured bulldozers churned through the sand in footage released by the army on the campaign to tighten the encirclement of Gaza City, still home to hundreds of thousands of civilians.

Since the shock Hamas attack of October 7, which Israeli officials say killed 1,400, also mostly civilians, and saw 240 taken hostage, Israel has relentlessly bombarded the besieged Gaza Strip, levelling entire city blocks.

In a video taken from Israel's Sderot along the border with the Gaza Strip, an Israeli flag was seen raised on top of a destroyed building.

The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, says more than 9,480 Gazans, mostly women and children, have been killed.

As the war ground into its fifth week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was on a Middle East tour Sunday and headed to Turkey, voicing support for its ally Israel while also urging "humanitarian pauses" and seeking to prevent a wider regional conflagration.

Since Israel sent ground forces into the north of the narrow Palestinian territory late last month, "over 2,500 terror targets have been struck" by "ground, air and naval forces", the army said on Sunday.

Soldiers were engaged in "close-quarters combat", it said, as Israeli jets were striking targets including a "Hamas military compound" overnight in the north of Gaza, vast areas of which have been reduced to a wasteland of rubble.

Leaflets dropped by the army again urged Gaza City residents to evacuate south between 10 am (0800 GMT) and 2 pm (1200 GMT), a day after a US official said at least 350,000 civilians remained in and around the city that is now an urban war zone.

Evacuations halted

In the latest strikes in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry said, Israeli bombing of Al-Maghazi refugee camp late Saturday killed 45 people, with an eyewitness reporting children dead and homes smashed.

"An Israeli air strike targeted my neighbours' house in Al-Maghazi camp, my house next door partially collapsed," said Mohammed Alaloul, 37, a journalist working for the Turkish Anadolu Agency.

Alaloul told AFP his 13-year-old son, Ahmed, and his four-year-old son, Qais, were killed in the bombing, along with his brother. His wife, mother and two other children were injured.

A military spokesperson said they were looking into whether their forces had been operating in the area at the time of the bombing.

More than 240 Israeli and foreign hostages were abducted by Hamas, officials say, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rebuffed proposals of a truce until the Islamist group releases them all.

Blinken faced a rising tide of anger in meetings with Arab foreign ministers in Jordan on Saturday, where he reaffirmed US support for "humanitarian pauses" to ensure desperate civilians get help, a day after Netanyahu gave the idea short shrift.

Blinken was later headed to Turkey whose President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held Netanyahu personally responsible for the growing civilian death toll in Gaza.

Turkey on Saturday said it was recalling its ambassador to Israel and breaking off contacts with Netanyahu.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, whose country has been acting as the sole conduit for foreigners to escape the Gaza Strip and for aid to get in, called for an "immediate and comprehensive ceasefire".

The call was echoed by thousands of protesters in Washington in solidarity with Palestinians, one of multiple rallies held from Indonesia to Iran as well as in European cities.

"The violence in Gaza has been prolonged and indiscriminate - it's not a war but a massacre," 27-year-old Indonesian protester Dwi Nurfitriani said during a march in Jakarta. "So, if we consider ourselves human, let's step in and reject all of the violence."

Thousands also demonstrated in Israel on Saturday as pressure mounts on Netanyahu over his government's lack of preparedness for the October 7 attacks and its handling of the hostage crisis.

In Tel Aviv, several thousand took to the streets, including relatives and friends of some of the hostages, chanting: "Bring them home now".

In Jerusalem, hundreds came together outside Netanyahu's residence with more explicit calls for his resignation.

Hamas said late Saturday the evacuation of dual nationals and foreigners from Gaza was being suspended until Israel lets some wounded Palestinians reach Rafah so they can cross the border for hospital treatment in Egypt.

A senior White House official said Hamas had tried to use a US-brokered deal opening the Egyptian border crossing to get its cadres out.

"That was just unacceptable to Egypt, to us, to Israel," the official said.

'Written off' Netanyahu

Israeli chief of staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi visited troops inside Gaza on Saturday after they completed the encirclement of Gaza City, which lies to the north of the Al-Maghazi camp.

The Israeli military describes Gaza City as "the centre of the Hamas terror organisation".

US special envoy for aid assistance, David Satterfield, said between 350,000 and 400,000 civilians remained in the city and adjacent areas.

In the north of Israel, the army and Lebanon's powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement again traded fire across the border on Saturday, with each claiming to have hit the other's positions.

The skirmishes came after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that the war could draw in other forces in a regional conflict.

Blinken on Saturday held talks in Amman with his counterparts from Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all key players in the crisis.

Jordan's King Abdullah II underlined that "the only way to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to work towards a political horizon to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution".

The US administration has said that it too backs a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but Netanyahu's hard-right government is implacably opposed.