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Middle East conflict

Israel military strikes northern Gaza in heaviest shelling in weeks

Israel military strikes northern Gaza in heaviest shelling in weeks
Smoke rising after Israeli airstrikes on Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip as seen from the Israeli side in southern Israel, 06 March 2024. EPA-EFE/ABIR SULTAN

April 23 (Reuters) - Israel bombarded northern Gaza overnight in some of the heaviest shelling in weeks, causing panic amongst residents and flattening neighbourhoods in an area from which the Israeli army had previously down its troops, residents said on Tuesday.

Army tanks made a new incursion east of Beit Hanoun on the northern edge of the Gaza Strip, though they did not penetrate far into the city, residents and Hamas media said. Gunfire reached some schools where displaced residents were sheltering.

In Israel, where government offices and businesses were shut to celebrate the Jewish Passover holiday, incoming rocket alerts sounded in southern border towns, although no casualties were reported.

The armed wing of Islamic Jihad, a group allied to Hamas, claimed responsibility for the rocket attacks on Sderot and Nir Am, indicating fighters were still able to launch them almost 200 days into the war, which has flattened large swathes of the enclave and displaced almost all of its 2.3 million people.

Thick black smoke could be seen rising in northern Gaza from across the southern Israeli border. Shelling was intense east of Beit Hanoun and Jabalia and continued on Tuesday morning in areas such as Zeitoun, one of Gaza City’s oldest suburbs, with residents reporting at least 10 strikes in a matter of seconds along the main road.

Just west of Beit Hanoun in Beit Lahiya, medics and Hamas media said strikes had hit a mosque and a crowd gathering on the coastal road to collect aid dropped from the air. Reuters could not immediately confirm those targets.

“It was one of those nights of horror that we had lived in at the start of the war. The bombing from tanks and planes didn’t stop,” said Um Mohammad, 53, a mother-of-six living 700 metres from Zeitoun.

“I had to gather with my children and my sisters who came to shelter with me in one place and pray for our lives as the house kept shaking,” she told Reuters via a chat app.

“I don’t know if we will make it alive before this war stops,” she added.

The Israeli army said rockets launched overnight into Israel had come from firing positions in northern Gaza. It had struck rocket launchers and killed several militants overnight, in what it called “targeted and precise” strikes.

“Over the past day, IAF fighter jets and additional aircraft struck approximately 25 terror targets throughout the Gaza Strip, including military infrastructure, observation posts, terrorists, launch posts,” it said in a statement.

 

HITTING AREAS WHERE TROOPS HAD WITHDRAWN

The renewed shelling and bombing of northern Gaza comes almost four months after the Israeli army announced it was drawing down its troops there, saying Hamas no longer controlled those areas.

This month, Israel also drew down most of its forces in southern Gaza. But efforts to reach a ceasefire have failed, and Israeli bombardment and raids on territory where its troops have withdrawn are making it difficult for displaced Gazans to return to abandoned homes. Israel also struck Khan Younis in the south on Tuesday, a day after tanks raided eastern parts of that city.

Israel says it is seeking to eradicate Hamas, which controls the enclave, following an attack by the militant group on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking 253 hostages by Israeli tallies.

Across the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military strikes killed 32 Palestinians and wounded 59 others in the past 24 hours, Palestinian health authorities said. They say more than 34,000 people have been confirmed killed in the seven-month war, with thousands more bodies as yet unrecovered.

Residents also reported bombing east of Deir Al-Balah on Tuesday in a central zone separating the north from the south.

In Nasser Hospital, southern Gaza’s main health facility, authorities recovered a further 35 bodies from what they say is one of at least three mass graves found at the site, taking the total found there to 310 in one week.

Israel says it was forced to battle inside hospitals because Hamas fighters operated there, which medical staff and Hamas deny.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Sharon Singleton; Editing by Peter Graff)

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