A soldier operating in the Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
A soldier operating in the Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Image Credit: Israeli Army/AFP

Cairo/Jerusalem: Israel battled Hamas militants on Saturday in pursuit of its elusive goal of full control of northern Gaza after the UN Security Council appealed for more aid for the Palestinian enclave but stopped short of demanding a ceasefire.

Thick smoke hung over the northern town of Jabalia - which is also home to Gaza's largest refugee camp - and residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks, which they said had moved further into the town.

Hamas' armed wing Al Qassam Brigades said it had destroyed five Israeli tanks in the area, killing and injuring their crews, after reusing two undetonated missiles launched earlier by Israel. Reuters could not independently verify the report.

Expanding ground offensive

Israel's chief military spokesperson said on Friday that its forces had achieved almost complete operational control of northern Gaza and were preparing to expand the ground offensive to other areas in the Strip, with a focus on the south.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said on Saturday they had fired decoy shots in the area of Issa in Gaza City that lured dozens of militants from a building that served as a Hamas headquarters in the north of the enclave.

"During the joint operational activity, IDF ground and intelligence troops directed an IAF fighter jet to strike the building, eliminating the terrorists," it said.

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The army also released a video it said showed Hamas tunnels in the Issa area. Reuters could not independently verify the location or the date. Israel accuses the militant group of placing tunnels and other military infrastructure among civilians to use them as human shields, something Hamas denies.

201 Palestinians killed in 24 hours

Later on Saturday, residents and Palestinian media reported that Israeli tanks shelled the town of Juhr ad-Deek in central Gaza. There was no immediate word on casualties.

At least 201 Palestinians have been killed over the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 20,258 during the 11-week conflict, the Palestinian health ministry said on Saturday, with thousands more bodies believed trapped under rubble.

Hamas said on Saturday it had lost contact with a group it said was responsible for five of the Israeli hostages due to Israeli bombardment. More than 100 hostages in total are still believed to be in Gaza.

3 killed in air strike on a house

Health officials and Hamas media said an Israeli air strike on a house in Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza killed three people including a journalist of Hamas' Aqsa TV channel and two relatives.

The reporter's death brings to at least 69 the number of journalists killed in the conflict, according to a tally by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths and blames Hamas for operating in densely populated areas, arguing that Israel will never be safe until the group is eliminated.

Hamas' Aqsa radio later said Israeli planes had bombed and destroyed the headquarters of Aqsa TV and radio station in Gaza City.

An IDF spokesperson declined to comment on Palestinian reports that Israeli forces had begun a ground offensive near Kerem Shalom, east of the Rafah Crossing into Egypt.

'Where should we go?'

Israel has long urged residents to leave northern areas of Gaza but its forces have also been bombarding targets in central and southern parts of the tiny coastal enclave.

"Where should we go to? There is no place safe," Ziad, a medic and father of six, told Reuters by phone. "They ask people to head to (the central Gaza city of) Deir Al-Balah, where they bomb day and night." Palestinian mourners attended the burial of a family of four killed in an Israeli airstrike on Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

"International law has collapsed... If Israel were in the Palestinians' position, the world would not stand still and would act," said Ramzy Aidy, a Gaza resident with a doctorate in law.