Those fleeing include children, the elderly and people with disabilities
Air strikes on the Gaza Strip killed a top Hamas weapons maker and several fighters, the Israeli military said on Wednesday, as its air and ground offensive targeted the militants' vast tunnel network beneath the besieged Palestinian enclave.
Gaza City, the Hamas militant group's main stronghold in the territory, is encircled by Israeli forces. The military said troops have advanced to the heart of the densely-populated city while Hamas says its fighters have inflicted heavy losses.
The Israeli military statement said two separate strikes eliminated a leading Hamas armorer, Mahsein Abu Zina, and fighters engaged in anti-tank or ground-to-ground rocket fire.
Palestinian media also reported clashes between militants and Israeli forces near al-Shati (Beach) refugee camp in Gaza City.
Reuters was unable to verify the battlefield claims of either side.
Israel has pounded Gaza from the air and used ground troops to divide the narrow coastal strip in two, following the Hamas raid on southern Israel on Oct. 7, when gunmen killed 1,400 people and took some 240 hostages.
More civilians flee south as Israeli forces enter Gaza City centre
8 hours ago
Featured VideoThe Israeli military says it is now fighting Hamas in the heart of Gaza City. As it pushes forward, more civilians walk the dangerous trip south to avoid the fighting and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu floats the idea of having to reoccupy Gaza after the war ends.
The Israeli bombardment has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians, around 40 per cent of them children, over the past month, according to counts by health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza.
Israel says 32 of its soldiers have been killed.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel had "one target — Hamas terrorists in Gaza, their infrastructure, their commanders, bunkers, communications rooms."
Chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said combat engineers were using explosive devices to destroy a tunnel network built by Hamas that stretches for hundreds of kilometres beneath Gaza.
Israeli tanks have encountered heavy resistance from Hamas fighters using the tunnels to launch ambushes, according to sources with Hamas and the separate Islamic Jihad militant group.
Hostages believed held in tunnels
Israelis have voiced fear that military operations could further endanger hostages, who are believed to be held in the tunnels. Israel says it won't agree to a ceasefire until the hostages are released. Hamas says it won't stop fighting while Gaza is under attack.
"I challenge (Israel) if it has been able, to this moment, to record any military achievement on the ground other than killing civilians," senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told Al Jazeera television.
Nearly two-thirds of Gaza's 2.3 million residents are internally displaced, according to UN figures, with thousands seeking refuge at hospitals including in makeshift canvas shelters in their car parks.
Palestinians flee south
In Gaza, thousands of Palestinians are fleeing south on foot with only what they can carry after running out of food and water in the north, a UN agency said Wednesday.
About 15,000 people fled northern Gaza on Tuesday, triple the number that left Monday, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. They are using Gaza's main north-south highway during a daily four-hour window announced by Israel.
Those fleeing include children, the elderly and people with disabilities, and most walked with minimal belongings, the UN agency said. Some say they had to cross Israeli checkpoints, where they saw people being arrested, while others held their hands in the air and raised white flags while passing Israeli tanks.
'No food, no water'
At Gaza City's Al Shifa hospital, Um Haitham Hejela, a woman sheltering with young children in an improvised tent fashioned from fabric, said they fled their home because of air strikes.
"The situation is getting worse day after day," she said. "There is no food, no water. When my son goes to pick up water, he queues for three or four hours in the line. They struck bakeries, we don't have bread."
The UN says Gaza's health system is close to collapse, battered by airstrikes, flooded with trauma patients, and running out ot medicines and fuel. Saudi owned al-Hadath TV reported that the Indonesian hospital in Gaza had lost power.
There are 350,000 patients with chronic conditions in Gaza, including cancer and diabetes, as well as 50,000 pregnant women, according to data from United Nations organizations, and many are no longer receiving treatment.
"The longer we wait, the worse some patients will get. Many people will die merely because they have no access to treatment," said Osama Qadoumi, the supervisor at Makassed Hospital.
with files from the Associated Press
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