Israel intensifies Gaza strikes, Hamas fires rockets amid truce talks

By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Bassam Masoud and Dan Williams

CAIRO/GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Fighting in the Gaza Strip escalated on Thursday with some of the most intense Israeli bombardment of the war and Hamas demonstrated its ability to rocket Tel Aviv, even as the foes engaged in the most serious talks for weeks on a new truce.

Israeli bombing was at its most intense over northern Gaza, where orange flashes of explosions could be seen from across the fence in Israel in the morning hours. Later, Israeli planes roared over central and southern areas, dropping bombs that sent up plumes of smoke, residents said.

In Israel’s commercial capital Tel Aviv, sirens wailed and rockets exploded overhead, intercepted by Israeli defences. Shrapnel fell on a school but the children were in shelters and there were no reported casualties, Israel’s Ynet news site said.

The armed wing of Hamas said it had fired the salvo in response to Israeli killing of civilians. But with the group’s leader in Cairo for truce talks, the attack seemed timed to send a message that nearly 11 weeks of war had failed to destroy the militants’ strike capability.

Both sides remained far apart in public. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed again to fight on until the eradication of Hamas, the Islamist group that sent fighters over the border into southern Israel on Oct. 7, taking some 240 hostages and killing 1,200 people.

“Surrender or die,” he told Hamas in a video address.

Hamas said Palestinian factions had taken a united position that there should be “no talk about prisoners or exchange deals, except after a full cessation of (Israeli) aggression”.

Residents in Jabalia in the north of the Strip close to the Israeli border said the area was completely cut off, with Israeli snipers now firing on anyone trying to escape.

“It was one of the worst nights in terms of the occupation bombings,” said one Jabalia resident who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

Nearly 20,000 Gazans have been confirmed killed since the start of the conflict, according to the Palestinian health ministry, with several thousand more bodies believed trapped under rubble. Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes.

A report by a UN-backed body said the entire population of Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. The risk of famine is increasing each day, added the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC).

“This report sort of confirms our worst fears,” said Arif Husain, chief economist and director of research at the U.N. World Food Programme.

“I’ve been doing this for the last 20 plus years. I’ve been to Afghanistan, I’ve been to Yemen, to Syria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, northeast Nigeria. But I’ve never seen something this bad happening this quickly,” he told Reuters in an interview.

By the afternoon, Israel intensified bombing of the Gaza City suburb of Sheikh Radwan, residents said. Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group said they fired rockets and mortar bombs at Israeli forces massing on the Gaza side of the border. Reuters could not confirm the battlefield reports.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had reports Israeli forces had stormed an ambulance centre in Jabalia and arrested paramedics. The Israeli military said it needed more details on the report to comment and was following international law and taking “feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm”.

The World Health Organization said the last hospital in the northern half of the Gaza Strip had effectively ceased functioning over the past two days, leaving no place left to take the wounded.


As clashes raged, diplomatic efforts ramped up in the final days of the year to stave off humanitarian catastrophe and agree a new truce to release some of the hostages taken by Hamas, the group that runs the Gaza Strip and has vowed to destroy Israel.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was in Egypt for a second day for negotiations, a rare personal intervention that in the past has signalled important stages in diplomacy. Islamic Jihad said its leader was also headed there.

“These are very serious discussions and negotiations, and we hope that they lead somewhere,” White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday. U.S. President Joe Biden said: “We’re pushing.”

In the past, mediating countries including Egypt and Qatar have met separately with Israel, Hamas and other groups, though there were no details on who might be engaged with any Israeli party on Thursday.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen confirmed negotiations on a hostage release were ongoing but declined to provide details.

Taher Al-Nono, Haniyeh’s media adviser, told Reuters: “We cannot talk about negotiations while Israel continues its aggression.”

Israel’s military said it destroyed a network of tunnels in Gaza City, which it found in recent days and said served senior Hamas leaders. It released a video that appeared to show a long line of fire erupting through the centre of Gaza City.

Hamas officials said an Israeli air strike at the Rafah crossing to Egypt on Thursday morning killed four people including the Gaza director of another border crossing, Kerem Shalom. Israel’s military appeared to deny involvement, saying it was not familiar with the incident.

Israel allowed Kerem Shalom to open this week, increasing the amount of aid getting into the Strip, though U.N. agencies say it remains a trickle compared to the vast needs.

The U.N. Security Council was due to vote on Thursday on a resolution to boost aid after a delay at the request of the United States. The draft would give the U.N. a wider role overseeing aid shipments, seen as diluting Israel’s control.

Washington said there were concerns that in its current form the resolution “could actually slow down” deliveries.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Bassam Masoud in Gaza, Dan Williams and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Aidan Lewis in London, and Steve Holland aboard Air Force One; Writing by Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Nick Macfie, Frances Kerry and Diane Craft)