Fighting intensifies between Israel and Hamas-led fighters

By Reuters
Published : 15 May 2024 09:32 PM | Updated : 15 May 2024 09:32 PM

Gun battles between Israel and fighters from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and smaller Palestinian factions intensified overnight into some of the fiercest in months in both northern and southern Gaza, both sides said on Wednesday.

Israeli tanks reached densely populated neighbourhoods and narrow alleyways of the militant stronghold of Jabalia in the northeast, facing heavy resistance. Residents said the army destroyed clusters of homes there in areas where they had not invaded before.

The armed wing of Hamas ally Islamic Jihad said its fighters killed and wounded Israeli foot soldiers during fierce clashes in eastern Jabalia, the biggest of eight refugee camps built in Gaza after the 1948 Middle East Arab-Israeli war.

"The invaders are trying to destroy the camp. They are bombing houses on top of their inhabitants. We know of many families being trapped inside their homes," said Abu Jehad, a resident of the camp who gave a nickname, fearing reprisals.

The Israeli military said it had begun an operation overnight against "terrorist operatives and infrastructure" in the centre of Jabalia.

"Over the past day, IDF troops in the area have engaged in intense battles with dozens of terrorist cells and eliminated a large number of terrorists," a statement said, including some it said had fired towards the Israeli city of Sderot on Tuesday.

Gaza's Civil Emergency Service and health ministry said rescue teams have been unable to reach areas where the army was operating to respond to calls for help.

Abu Jehad said the fighters were putting up a fierce fight.

"Our fighters are teaching painful lessons, we hear the explosions, yes they have planes and tanks but our fighters are defending Jabalia, the cradle of the revolution as it has always been known," he told Reuters via a chat app.

In Rafah - the city in southernmost Gaza where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering from fighting elsewhere, troops continued to operate in the eastern Al-Salam and Jeneina neighbourhoods and also in southeast, residents said. 

They said troops and tanks were trying to move towards the centre of Rafah but were being met with heavy resistance from Hamas-led gunmen.

Israel said its troops began targeting a Hamas training compound in eastern Rafah, killing fighters in close-quarters combat and finding large amounts of weapons and equipment intended to simulate that of the Israeli defence forces. It said earlier that a soldier had been killed in combat in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. A reporter for public broadcaster Kan said this was the first military fatality in Rafah since the start of the ground operation there last week.

Israel has ordered civilians to evacuate parts of Rafah, and UNRWA, the main United Nations aid agency in Gaza, estimates some 450,000 people have fled the city since May 6. More than a million civilians had sought refuge there.

They are moving to places such as Al-Mawasi, a sandy coastal area that aid agencies say lacks sanitary and other facilities to host displaced people.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Wednesday that families were being forcibly displaced again by Israeli forces evacuation orders and enhancing military operations.

"Despite catastrophic humanitarian needs, access restrictions and lack of safe passage obstruct efforts of humanitarian organisations to reach people across the Gaza Strip," the agency said on X.