Israel trains fire on south Gaza as Biden urges caution

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Israel said its armed forces were increasingly focused on Hamas targets in south Gaza Sunday, as the United States again pressed its ally to do more to protect Palestinian civilians.

Signalling a pivot after weeks of intensive fighting around Gaza City, the Israeli army said troops were now looking to the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis and elsewhere in the south.

The refugee camp-turned-city is the birthplace and powerbase of Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza and the man Israel holds most responsible for the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war that has convulsed the region.

Hamas militants streamed across the Gaza border on Oct. 7 and attacked southern Israeli communities, killing about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. They also seized around 250 hostages, of whom 129 remain in Gaza.

In response, Israel vowed to crush Hamas and launched an air, land and sea offensive on Gaza. The Palestinian territory’s Hamas government says the war has killed more than 20,000 people, mostly women and children.

The Israeli army said nine soldiers were killed in Gaza on Saturday, bringing to 152 its overall death toll in the territory since the ground assault began on Oct. 27.

While the Israeli army would continue operations across Gaza, military spokesman Jonathan Conricus indicated forces were close to having operational control in north Gaza.

Now, he said, “we focus our efforts against Hamas in southern Gaza.”

In central Gaza, rescuers scrambled overnight to pull people from a destroyed residential building in the city of Deir al-Balah.

“I was praying when a huge explosion occurred, and rubble fell on us. I didn’t know what happened,” said Yazan Moqbel, a wounded man whose sister was still under the rubble.

Israel denies directly targeting civilians and says the war against Hamas is vital to ensure October’s shock raids on farms, villages and kibbutzim in Israel can never be repeated.

Early on Sunday, Hamas said new strikes had hit Jabalia and Khan Yunis.

Nearly 80 percent for Gaza’s 2.4 population has been displaced by the fighting, the U.N. estimates.

Many from the north have fled to the relative safety of the south, only to be caught up in the war for a second time.

Against this backdrop, U.S. President Joe Biden said he had another “long talk” with Israel’s hawkish prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

The White House said the discussion focused on the “objectives and phasing” of Israel’s military operation, as well as “the critical need” to protect civilians.

Israeli officials gave a terse account of the call, saying Netanyahu “made it clear that Israel would continue the war until all of its goals have been achieved.”

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, has had testy relations with a string of U.S. presidents.

But disagreements over how the Gaza war is being waged, when it will end, and what happens the day after, have strained ties ever further.

On Friday, the United States allowed the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that effectively called on Israel to allow “immediate, safe and unhindered” deliveries of life-saving aid to Gaza “at scale.”

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