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Hamas battles Israeli forces in north Gaza, hostage deal report denied


Hamas battles Israeli forces in north Gaza, hostage deal report denied

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and James Mackenzie

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Hamas militants battled Israeli forces trying to push into Gaza’s largest refugee camp on Sunday and Israeli air strikes to the south killed dozens of Palestinians, witnesses said, as a U.S. media report of a nascent hostage release deal was denied.

The Washington Post said on Sunday that U.S. mediators were close to a deal between Israel and Hamas to free dozens of women and children held hostage in Gaza in exchange for a five-day pause in their war that would help boost emergency aid shipments to Gaza civilians, citing people familiar with the matter.

The Post had reported on Saturday that a tentative deal had been reached, and this was denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. officials, with a White House spokesperson saying efforts were continuing to clinch a deal.

Hamas took about 240 hostages during its deadly cross-border rampage into Israeli communities on Oct. 7, which prompted Israel to lay siege to Gaza and invade the Palestinian territory to eradicate its ruling Islamist group.

Reuters reported on Nov. 15 that Qatari mediators had been seeking a deal between Israel and Hamas to exchange 50 hostages in return for a three-day ceasefire, citing an official briefed on the talks. At the time, the official said general outlines had been agreed but Israel was still negotiating details.

On Sunday, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told a press conference in Doha that the main sticking points blocking a hostage release deal were now “very minor” – mainly practical and logistical issues.

The delicate hostage talks coincide with Israel preparing to expand its offensive against Hamas to densely populated Gaza’s southern half after air strikes killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilians reportedly sheltering at two schools.

Israeli forces invaded late last month after a devastating aerial blitz in response to Hamas’s shock Oct. 7 attack, and say they have wrested control of large areas of the north and northwest and east around Gaza City.

But guerrilla-style Hamas resistance remains fierce in pockets of the heavily urbanised north including parts of Gaza City and the sprawling Jabalia and Beach refugee camps, according to Hamas and local witnesses.

Witnesses reported heavy fighting overnight between Hamas gunmen and Israeli ground forces trying to advance into Jabalia, the largest of the enclave’s camps with nearly 100,000 people.

Jabalia has come under repeated Israeli bombardment that has killed scores of civilians, Palestinian medics say, with Israel saying the strikes have killed many militants harbouring there.

After daybreak on Sunday, Israel’s military called on residents of several Jabalia neighbourhoods to evacuate towards south Gaza “to preserve your safety”, in Arabic messages on social media platform X.

It said it was pausing military action between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday to smooth evacuations as Hamas “has lost control over northern Gaza and is trying to prevent you moving south”.

Most of Jabalia’s inhabitants rejected previous Israeli appeals to clear out to the south of the narrow coastal enclave.

The south has also been repeatedly bombarded by Israel, rendering Israeli promises of safety absurd, Palestinians say.

After several inconclusive wars since 2007, Israel vowed to destroy Hamas after its Oct. 7 attack in which around 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed, according to Israeli tallies, the deadliest day in the country’s 75-year history.

Gaza’s Health Ministry raised its death toll from the unrelenting Israeli bombardment to 12,300, including 5,000 children. Israel’s blitz has reduced swathes of the north to rubble, while some two-thirds of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been displaced to the south.


In the centre of the narrow coastal enclave, Palestinian medics said 31 people were killed, including two local journalists, in Israeli air strikes targeting a number of houses in the Bureij and Nusseirat refugee camps late on Saturday night. Another air strike killed a woman and her child overnight in the main southern city of Khan Younis, they said.

In Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, dozens of Palestinians marched to a funeral for 15 residents killed in an Israeli strike on an apartment block on Saturday. “Our youth are dying, women and children are dying, where are the Arab presidents?” said Heydaya Asfour, a relative of some of the dead.

The Israeli army says Hamas uses residential and other civilian buildings as cover for command centres, weapons, rocket launchpads and a vast underground tunnel network. The Islamist movement denies using human shields to wage war.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, said militants killed six soldiers at close range in the village of Juhr al-Dik just east of Gaza City after ambushing them with an anti-personnel missile and closing in with machine guns.

Seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the fighting on Saturday, the military said, without giving details.

As the conflict entered its seventh week, there was no sign of a let-up, despite urgent international appeals for “humanitarian pauses” to enable unrestricted, safe deliveries of aid to civilians lacking food, drinking water and medical care.


A team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) that visited Al Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital, on Saturday described it as a “death zone”, days after Israeli forces seized the premises to root out an alleged Hamas command centre underneath it.

The WHO team reported signs of gunfire and shelling and a mass grave at Al Shifa’s entrance, and said it was making plans for the immediate evacuation of 291 remaining patients, including the war-wounded, and 25 staff.

On Sunday, 31 premature babies were evacuated from Al Shifa in a joint operation by the U.N. and the Palestinian Red Crescent and taken south in ambulances towards the Emirates Hospital in Rafah, the aid group said.

Hundreds of other patients, staff and displaced people who were sheltering in Al Shifa left on Saturday, with Palestinian health officials saying they were ejected inhumanely by Israeli troops and the military saying the departures were voluntary.

After air-dropping leaflets earlier in the week, Israel on Saturday again warned civilians in parts of southern Gaza to relocate as it girds for an offensive from the north.

But an advance into southern Gaza may prove more complicated and deadlier than the north, with Hamas militants dug into the Khan Younis region, a power base of Gaza political leader Yahya Sinwar, a senior Israeli source and two top ex-officials said.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, James Mackenzie Henriette Chacar and Reuters bureaux; writing by Kim Coghill and Mark Heinrich; editing by Cynthia Osterman, William Mallard, Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens)

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