Israeli troops battle Hamas fighters in packed refugee camp
Footage released by the military in recent days shows soldiers and tanks operating in dense urban neighbourhoods.
Israeli troops have battled Hamas militants in a packed urban refugee camp as they expanded operations across northern Gaza, where residents have been without electricity, water or access to humanitarian aid for weeks.
The front line of the war, now in its seventh week, has shifted to the Jabaliya camp, a dense warren of concrete buildings near Gaza City that houses refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and their descendants.
Israel has been bombarding the area for weeks, and the military said Hamas fighters have regrouped there and in other eastern districts after being pushed out of much of Gaza City.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said late on Monday that Israeli forces had a “full grasp” on Jabaliya and were starting to dismantle a Hamas brigade there. It was not possible to independently confirm details of the fighting.
The war sparked by Hamas’ surprise October 7 attack into Israel has exacted a heavy toll on Palestinian civilians, particularly those who remain in the north after Israel repeatedly called on people to flee south.
Israeli forces cut off the north in their ground invasion late last month, though tens of thousands have since fled south through corridors announced by the military.
It is unclear how many people remain in the north but the UN agency for Palestinian refugees estimates that some 160,000 people are still in its shelters there, even though it is no longer able to provide services.
Some 1.7 million Palestinians, about three fourths of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes.
Hundreds of thousands of people have packed into UN-run schools and other facilities across southern Gaza that now serve as shelters. As they have overflowed, people have been forced to sleep on the streets outside, with little shelter from winter rain that has hit the region in recent days.
Israel continues to strike what it says are militant targets across Gaza, including in the southern evacuation zone, often killing women and children, and officials have said it may soon expand its operations in the south.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians in the north had sheltered in hospitals, but those have steadily been emptied out as the fighting has reached their gates, and most are no longer operational.
Marwan Abdallah, a medical worker at the Indonesian hospital near Jabaliya, said heavy fighting outside its gates on Tuesday prevented ambulances from bringing wounded people in for treatment. “The situation is worsening hour by hour,” he said.
Palestinian officials said an Israeli shell struck the hospital early on Monday, killing 12 people. Israel denied shelling the hospital but said its troops returned fire on militants who targeted them from inside the 3.5-acre (1.4 hectare) compound.
Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said roughly 200 wounded patients and their companions were evacuated from the hospital to southern Gaza on Monday in a rescue effort coordinated by the UN and the International Committee for the Red Cross.
Between 400 and 500 wounded remain at Indonesia Hospital, Mr Ashraf told Al-Jazeera television. Some 2,000 displaced Palestinians are also sheltering there.
Hamas has released four hostages, Israel has rescued one, and the bodies of two were found near Shifa.
Izzat Rishq, a senior Hamas official, said on Tuesday that an agreement could be reached “in the coming hours” in which Hamas would release captives and Israel would release Palestinian prisoners. Hamas’ leader in exile Ismail Haniyeh also said they were close to a deal but similar predictions in recent weeks have proven premature.
Israel’s three-member war Cabinet met representatives of the hostages’ families Monday evening. A relative of a hostage said the officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told families the government considers the release of hostages and the defeat of Hamas to be “equally important”.
Udi Goren, whose cousin Tal Chaimi is in captivity in Gaza, said that was “incredibly disappointing” for the families, as Israel has said it could take months to dismantle the militant group.
“We will not stop fighting until we bring the hostages home, destroy Hamas and ensure that there is no more of a threat from Gaza,” Mr Netanyahu said on social media after the meeting.