Israeli Strikes Pound Gaza City, Where Tens Of Thousands Have Fled In Recent Days

Israeli strikes pounded Gaza City overnight and into Thursday as ground forces battled Hamas militants in dense urban neighborhoods from which tens of thousands have fled in recent days.

Israeli troops were around 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from Shifa Hospital in the heart of downtown, the hospital’s director said. Israel has been vague on troop movements, but officials say Gaza’s largest city is the focus of their campaign to crush Hamas following its deadly Oct. 7 assault inside Israel.

International mediators were meanwhile closing in on a possible deal for a three-day humanitarian cease-fire in exchange for the release of around a dozen hostages held by Hamas, according to two Egyptian officials, a United Nations official and a Western diplomat. The deal would also allow a small amount of fuel to enter the territory for the first time since the war began.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said any temporary cease-fire would have to be accompanied by the release of hostages seized by Hamas during the Oct. 7 attack. Israel has said around 240 hostages are currently held in Gaza. Their plight has galvanized Israeli support for the war despite growing international concern for Palestinian civilians.

The Group of Seven wealthy nations, which includes close allies of Israel, issued a statement Wednesday condemning Hamas and supporting Israel’s right to self-defense. But the group also called for the “unimpeded” delivery of food, water, medicine and fuel, and for “humanitarian pauses” in the fighting.

The possible cease-fire deal is being brokered by the United States, Egypt and Qatar, a Persian Gulf country that mediates with Hamas.

A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration has suggested Israel tie the length of a pause to a certain number of hostages being released in a formula that could be used for additional pauses. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of impacting the delicate, ongoing negotiations.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen declined to elaborate on any emerging deal in an interview with Israel’s army radio, saying “I’d recommend not talking about what we’ve agreed to — it hurts the negotiations.”

Meanwhile, Israeli ground forces battling inside Gaza City drew closer to Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, according to the hospital’s general director, Mohammed Abu Selmia.

The Israeli military says Hamas’ main command center is located in and under the hospital complex and that senior leaders are hiding there, using the facility as a shield. Hamas and hospital staff deny the claim and say the military is making a pretext to strike it.

For Palestinians in Gaza, the hospital is a symbol of civilian suffering in the war. Like others, it has been overwhelmed by a constant stream of wounded even as medical supplies dwindle. Tens of thousands of displaced people have been sheltering in and around the complex.

Scores of wounded people were rushed to Shifa overnight, Abu Selmia told The Associated Press on Thursday. “At dawn, a shell landed very close to the hospital, but thank God only a few people had minor injuries,” he said.

“The conditions here are disastrous in every sense of the word,” he said. “We’re short on medicine and equipment, and the doctors and nurses are exhausted. … We’re unable to do much for the patients.“

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