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Middle East crisis

Israel attacks Hamas gunmen inside Gaza tunnels

Israel attacks Hamas gunmen inside Gaza tunnels
A flare over the northern part of the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel, 31 October 2023. Over the last day Israeli forces struck approximately 300 targets as part of its 'expanded ground operations' in the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said on 31 October. More than 8,000 Palestinians and at least 1,400 Israelis have been killed, according to the IDF and the Palestinian health authority, since Hamas militants launched an attack against Israel from the Gaza Strip on 07 October, and the Israeli operations in Gaza and the West Bank which followed it. EPA-EFE/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Israel said its forces attacked Hamas gunmen inside the Islamists' vast tunnel network beneath Gaza, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls for a halt to fighting to ease humanitarian crisis.

The tunnels are a key objective for Israel as it expands ground operations inside Gaza to wipe out the ruling Islamist Hamas movement following its surprise attack three weeks ago that Israeli authorities say killed more than 1,400 people.

“Over the last day, combined IDF combat forces struck approximately 300 targets, including anti-tank missile and rocket launch posts below shafts, as well as military compounds inside underground tunnels belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization,” the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

Militants responded with anti-tank missiles and machine gun fire, it added.

“The soldiers killed terrorists and directed air forces to real-time strikes on targets and terror infrastructure,” the IDF said.

Israeli armed forces also bombed Gaza overnight in air, sea and ground attacks, targeting northwestern areas of the Palestinian enclave where Israeli troops were operating on the ground, witnesses said on Tuesday.

The United States and Arab countries have urged Israel to delay any ground operation that would multiply the number of civilian casualties and might ignite a wider conflict.

Air raid sirens went off in the area of the Israeli Red Sea city of Eilat on Tuesday and Israel’s military said it downed an approaching “aerial target”.

“There was no threat or risk to civilians,” it added.

Witnesses said Israeli forces targeted Gaza’s main north-south road on Monday and attacked Gaza City from two directions. Israel said its troops freed a soldier from Hamas captivity.

Hamas has so far released four civilians from the 240 hostages Israel says were captured in the Oct. 7 attacks. Many of the hostages are believed to held in the tunnels.

The al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, said militants clashed early on Tuesday with Israeli forces “invading the southern Gaza axis,” adding that four vehicles were targeted with al-Yassin 105 missiles, referring to locally produced anti-tank missiles.

The militants also targeted two Israeli tanks and bulldozers in northwest Gaza, al-Qassam said.

Reuters was unable to confirm the reports of fighting. Israel’s military had no immediate comment.

Gaza health authorities say that 8,306 people, including 3,457 minors, have been killed in Israeli attacks since Oct. 7. U.N. officials say more than 1.4 million of Gaza’s civilian population of about 2.3 million have been made homeless.

The mounting death toll has drawn calls from the U.S., Israel’s top ally, other countries and the U.N. for a pause in fighting to allow more humanitarian aid to reach the enclave.

Netanyahu said late on Monday that Israel would not agree to a cessation of hostilities and would press ahead with its plans to wipe out Hamas.

“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

 

‘DISASTER ON TOP OF A DISASTER’

Israel’s military said it struck more than 600 militant targets in recent days in Gaza, where civilians are in dire need of fuel, food and clean water.

Israeli air strikes on Monday night outside the Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip caused a power cut and doctors said they feared for the lives of 250 injured Palestinians being treated there as fuel runs low.

“Running out of fuel would mean no power and no power would mean the inevitable death of many patients at intensive care unit and wounded in surgery departments,” Dr. Moaeen Al-Masri said.

Footage obtained by Reuters showed Palestinians carrying bodies of victims of Israel’s ground offensive on a donkey cart to the Indonesian Hospital. Dozens of Palestinians walked behind the cart and around it chanting “Allah Akbar.”

Health officials at the Turkish Friendship Hospital in Gaza City also reported that bombing damage to the third floor had endangered the lives of cancer patients.

The U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) said that water supply through a pipeline from Israel to southern Gaza was cut off on Monday “for unknown reasons”, and that an announced repair of another pipeline to central Gaza did not take place.

“At the time of writing, no water is provided to Gaza from Israel,” OCHA said on its website.

Significantly fewer humanitarian aid trucks than needed have reached the besieged enclave, U.N. officials said, and civil order has broken down with people storming U.N. warehouses in search of food.

That has put four U.N. aid distribution centres and a storage facility out of action, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Monday.

“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster. Health needs are soaring and our ability to meet those needs is rapidly declining,” World Health Organization regional emergencies chief Rick Brennan said, reiterating international calls for a ceasefire to enable a larger humanitarian operation.

Aid trucks have been trickling into Gaza from Egypt over the past week via Rafah, the main crossing that does not border Israel. It has become the main point of aid delivery since Israel imposed a “total siege” of Gaza after Oct. 7.

OCHA said 26 trucks entered the Rafah crossing on Monday.

Hamas released a video on Monday that showed three hostages seized by the Islamist movement on Oct. 7.

The women – identified by Netanyahu as Yelena Trupanob, Danielle Aloni and Rimon Kirsht – sat side by side against a bare wall, and Aloni addressed an angry message to the prime minister.

Netanyahu condemned the video as “cruel psychological propaganda” and said Israel’s ground campaign created possibilities for rescuing the hostages.

The conflict has led to demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians, and antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up unrest inside Russia after rioters in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Emily Rose

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Yomna Ehab, Ali Swafta, James Mackenzie, Henriette Chacar, Dan Williams, Emma Farge and Jonathan Landay; Writing by Idrees Ali, Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie; Editing by Rami Ayyub, Michael Perry and Simon Cameron-Moore)

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