Scores reported killed in Gaza as fighting shatters Israel-Hamas truce

Scores reported killed in Gaza as fighting shatters Israel-Hamas truce

By Suhaib Salem and Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) -Israel's warplanes pounded Gaza on Friday after talks to extend a week-old truce with Hamas collapsed, sending wounded and dead Palestinians into hospitals and forcing hundreds to flee in the streets.

Eastern areas of Khan Younis in southern Gaza came under intense bombardment as the deadline lapsed shortly after dawn, with columns of smoke rising into the sky, Reuters journalists in the city said. Residents took to the road with belongings heaped up in carts, searching for shelter further west.

In the north of the enclave, previously the main war zone, huge plumes of smoke rose above the ruins, seen from across the fence in Israel. The rattle of gunfire and thud of explosions rang out above the sound of barking dogs.

Sirens blared across southern Israel as militants fired rockets from the coastal enclave into towns. Hamas said it had targeted Tel Aviv, but there were no reports of casualties or damage there.

By the evening, Gaza health officials said Israeli air strikes had killed 184 people, wounded at least 589 others and hit more than 20 houses.

Israel and Hamas accused each other of wrecking the negotiations and triggering the resumption of violence, though the White House singled out the Palestinian militant group, saying it had failed to produce a new list of hostages to release to enable an extension of the truce.

Israel's military said its ground, air and naval forces had struck more than 200 what it called "terror targets" in the enclave since the morning.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he had been in one of Israel's war jets to watch the assault up close. "The results are impressive. Hamas only understands force and therefore we will continue to act until we achieve the goals of the war," he said.

The U.N. said the fighting would worsen an extreme humanitarian emergency. "Hell on Earth has returned to Gaza," Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. humanitarian office in Geneva, said.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Israeli forces had stopped all deliveries of aid into Gaza through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

COGAT, the Israeli agency for civilian coordination with the Palestinians, said aid agreed under the truce had been stopped but, at Washington's request, "dozens" of other trucks with water, food and medical supplies had got through to Gaza.

Medics and witnesses said Friday's bombing was most intense in Khan Younis and Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been sheltering from fighting further north. Houses in central and northern areas were also hit.

"Anas, my son!" cried the mother of Anas Anwar al-Masri, a boy lying on a stretcher with a head injury in the corridor of Nasser hospital in Khan Younis. "I don't have anyone but you!"

'YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED'

Residents and officials from Hamas said its fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades battled Israeli troops and tanks in Gaza City's Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in the north.

Gaza health officials said six people died in an Israeli strike on a house in the central city of Deir Al-Balah. There was no confirmation of either report from Israel.

In the south in Rafah, residents carried several small children, streaked with blood and covered in dust, out of a house that had been struck. Mohammed Abu-Elneen, whose father owns the house, said it was sheltering people displaced from elsewhere.

At the nearby Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital, the first wave of wounded were men and boys.

Gazans said they feared that the bombing of southern parts of the enclave could herald an expansion of the war into areas Israel had previously described as safe.

Leaflets dropped on eastern areas of Khan Younis ordered residents of four towns to evacuate - not to other areas in Khan Younis as in the past, but further south to the crowded town of Rafah on the Egyptian border.

"You have to evacuate immediately and go to the shelters in the Rafah area. Khan Younis is a dangerous fighting zone. You have been warned," said the leaflets, written in Arabic.

Israel released a link to a map showing Gaza divided into hundreds of districts, which it said would be used in future to communicate which areas were safe.

On another faultline, a Lebanese official said Israeli shelling killed three people in south Lebanon on Friday. And the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, said it had carried out several attacks on Israeli military positions at the border in support of Palestinians.

The Israeli army said its artillery struck sources of fire from Lebanon and air defences had intercepted two launches. Reuters could not confirm any of the battlefield accounts.

BLINKEN SAYS HAMAS RENEGED ON COMMITMENTS

Each of the warring sides blamed the other for causing the collapse of the truce by rejecting terms to extend the daily release of hostages held by militants in exchange for Palestinian detainees.

The pause, which began on Nov. 24, had been extended twice, and Israel had said it could continue as long as Hamas released 10 hostages each day. But after seven days during which women, children and foreign hostages were freed, mediators failed at the final hour to find a formula to release more, including Israeli soldiers and civilian men.

Israel accused Hamas of refusing to release all the women it held. A Palestinian official said the breakdown occurred over female Israeli soldiers.

Qatar, which has played a central role in mediation efforts, said negotiations were still going on with Israelis and Palestinians to restore the truce, but that Israel's renewed bombardment of Gaza had complicated its efforts.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ending a trip to the region, said Hamas had started firing rockets before the pause in hostilities expired, had carried out a deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem on Thursday and had not followed through on commitments on hostages.

"It came to an end because of Hamas. Hamas reneged on commitments it made," Blinken said.

Israel has sworn to annihilate Hamas in response to the Oct. 7 rampage by the militant group, when Israel says gunmen killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages. Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Israel's assault has laid waste to much of the territory. Palestinian health authorities deemed reliable by the United Nations say more than 15,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed and thousands more are missing and feared buried under rubble.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Mohammed Salem and Roleen Tafakji in Gaza, Humeyra Pamuk in Tel Aviv, Ari Rabinovich and Emily Rose in Jerusalem, Andrew Mills in Doha and Reuters bureaux; Writing by Cynthia Osterman, Lincoln Feast, Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, Philippa Fletcher and Grant McCool)