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By NAJIB JOBAIN, SAMY MAGDY and LEE KEATH
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops and tanks pushed deeper into Gaza on Monday, advancing on two sides of the territory’s main city, as the U.N. and medical staff warned that airstrikes have hit closer to hospitals where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.
Video circulating on social media showed an Israeli tank and bulldozer in central Gaza blocking the territory’s main north-south highway, which the Israeli military earlier told Palestinians to use to escape the expanding ground offensive. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain in the north would no longer be able to escape if the road is blocked since it’s the only useable route south.
When asked whether forces had positioned on the road, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said “we expanded our operations” but would not comment on specific deployments.
The video, taken by a local journalist, shows a car approaching an earth barrier across the road. The car stops and turns around. As it heads away, a tank appears to open fire, and an explosion engulfs the car. The journalist, in another car, races away in terror, screaming, “Go back! Go back!” at an approaching ambulance and other vehicles. The Gaza Health Ministry later said three people were killed in the car that was hit.
The militant Hamas movement ruling Gaza released a video Monday purporting to show three women captured during its Oct. 7 attack inside Israel. One of the women delivers a brief statement, likely under duress, criticizing Israel’s response to the hostage crisis.
Hamas and other militants captured around 240 people during the deadly raid and have said they will release them in return for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Israel has dismissed the offer.
The Israeli advances put their forces on both sides of Gaza City and the surrounding areas of northern Gaza, in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “second stage” of the war ignited by Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 incursion. Casualties on both sides are expected to rise sharply if Israeli forces expand their ground operation and end up battling Palestinian militants in dense residential areas.
Though Israel ordered Palestinians to flee the north, where Gaza City is located, and move south, hundreds of thousands remain, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones. Around 117,000 displaced people hoping to stay safe from strikes are staying in hospitals in northern Gaza, alongside thousands of patients and staff, according to U.N. figures.
The death toll among Palestinians passed 8,300, mostly women and children, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack, also an unprecedented figure.
Israeli forces appeared to be driving deeper into Gaza from the north. Video released Monday by the military showed armored vehicles moving among buildings and soldiers taking positions inside a house.
Hagari said additional infantry, armored, engineering and artillery units had entered Gaza and the operations would continue to “expand and intensify,” though Israel has stopped short of calling its operations an all-out invasion.
The military said Monday that overnight its troops had killed dozens of militants who attacked from inside buildings and tunnels. It said that in the last few days, it had struck more than 600 militant targets, including weapons depots and antitank missile launching positions. The reports of targeting could not be independently confirmed.
Hamas’ military wing said its militants clashed with Israeli troops who entered the northwest Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, including toward its commercial hub, Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, crowded hospitals in northern Gaza came under growing threat. Strikes hit near Gaza City’s Shifa and Al Quds hospitals and the Indonesian and Turkish hospitals in northern Gaza in recent days, the U.N. and residents said Monday.
All 10 hospitals operating in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders, the U.N.’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said. Staff have refused to leave, saying evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.
Tens of thousands of civilians are sheltering in Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Israel accuses Hamas of having a secret command post beneath the hospital but has not provided much evidence. Hamas denies the allegations.
Strikes hit within 50 meters (yards) of Al Quds Hospital after it received two calls from Israeli authorities on Sunday ordering it to evacuate, the Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said. Some windows were blown out, and rooms were covered in debris. It said 14,000 people are sheltering there
Israel says it targets Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate among civilians, putting them in danger.
Beyond the fighting, conditions for civilians in Gaza are continually deteriorating as food, water, medicine and fuel run dangerously low amid a weekslong Israeli siege.
On Sunday, the largest convoy of humanitarian aid yet — 33 trucks — entered the territory from Egypt. Relief workers say the amount is still far less than what is needed for the population of 2.3 million people.
The siege has pushed Gaza’s infrastructure nearly to collapse. With no central power for weeks and little fuel, hospitals are struggling to keep emergency generators running to operate incubators and other life-saving equipment. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, has been trying to keep water pumps and bakeries running. Last week, U.N. officials said hunger was growing.
On Saturday, crowds of people broke into four U.N. facilities and took food supplies in what the U.N called a sign that civil order was starting to break down amid increasing desperation.
Israel also opened two water lines in southern Gaza within the past week, according to the Israeli military body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. The Associated Press could not independently verify that either line was functioning. Communications were restored to most of Gaza on Sunday more than a day without phone and internet services.
Meanwhile, domestic pressure has increased on Israel’s government to secure the release of 239 hostages seized by Hamas fighters during the Oct. 7 attack. Desperate family members of the Israeli captives met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange.
The fighting has raised concerns that the violence could spread across the region. Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah have engaged in daily skirmishes along Israel’s northern border.
In the West Bank, Israel said its warplanes carried out airstrikes Monday against militants clashing with its forces in the Jenin refugee camp, the scene of repeated Israeli raids. Hamas said four of its fighters were killed there. As of Sunday, Israeli forces and settlers have killed 115 Palestinians, including 33 children, in the West Bank, half of them during search-and-arrest operations, the U.N. said.
The Israeli military said early Monday that its aircraft hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there fell in open Israeli territory. Syrian opposition groups said strikes destroyed three trucks entering eastern Syria from Iraq, and soon after Iranian-backed militias fired rockets at U.S. positions in Syria.
Roughly 250,000 Israelis have been evacuated from their homes because of violence along the border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon, according to the Israeli military.