Palestinian militants ambushed Israeli troops in a dense Gaza City neighborhood, killing at least nine of them, media reported Wednesday, as Hamas put up stiff resistance in areas that Israel has isolated and pounded with airstrikes for over nine weeks.
The air and ground offensive has resulted in the deaths of over 18,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that triggered the war. Nearly 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been forced to flee their homes, and much of the territory's north resembles a moonscape.
U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has repeatedly called on Israel to take greater measures to spare Palestinian civilians, even as it has blocked international calls for a cease-fire and rushed military aid to its close ally.
More than six weeks after Israeli soldiers invaded Gaza's north, ground troops are still locked in heavy combat with Palestinian fighters in and around Gaza City. Clashes raged overnight and into Wednesday in multiple areas, with especially heavy fighting in Shijaiyah, a dense neighborhood that was the scene of a major battle during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.
“It’s terrifying. We couldn’t sleep,” Mustafa Abu Taha, a Palestinian agricultural worker who lives in the neighborhood, said by phone. “The situation is getting worse and we don’t have a safe place to go.”
Army Radio said troops who were searching a cluster of buildings in Shijaiyah on Tuesday lost communication with four soldiers who had come under fire, sparking fears of a possible abduction. When the other soldiers launched a rescue operation, they were ambushed with heavy gunfire and explosives.
Among the nine dead were Col. Itzhak Ben Basat, 44, the most senior officer to have been killed in the ground operation, and Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg, a battalion commander.
The military confirmed the deaths but did not respond to a request for further comment. Several Israeli media outlets carried similar accounts of the battle.
Heavy rainfall overnight swamped tent camps in Gaza's south, where Israel has told people to seek refuge, even as that region has also come under repeated aerial bombardment.
Because of the fighting and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the health care system and humanitarian aid operations have collapsed in large parts of the territory, and aid workers have warned of starvation and the spread of disease among displaced people.
Israeli strikes overnight hit two residential buildings in the southern province of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces had launched a new line of attack earlier this month.
A strike on a home near the main highway between Khan Younis and the southern border town of Rafah killed two boys, aged 2 and 8, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 30s, according to Mohammed al-Beiyouk, a relative of the deceased. Another strike killed a baby and his grandfather, according to hospital records at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.
The military rarely comments on individual strikes. Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high toll on Hamas because it conceals fighters, tunnels and weapons in residential areas.
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