Israel battled Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip’s biggest cities and said it had attacked dozens of targets, leaving 350 Palestinians dead and the rest struggling to survive in rapidly shrinking areas of refuge.
Gazans crammed into Rafah on the southern border with Egypt, heeding Israeli leaflets and messages saying that they would be safe in the city after successive warnings to head south.
But more than 20 people were killed in apartments there late on Wednesday sheltering displaced civilians from the north, said Eyad al-Hobi, a relative of some of those killed.
Another relative, Bassam al-Hobi, said the building had been hit by three rockets.
Israel said militants had fired at least one rocket from Rafah and 12 from the desolate area of Al Mawasi on Gaza’s southern Mediterranean coast where it has also advised displaced people to gather, leaving the status of the areas unclear.
In southern Gaza’s largest city, Khan Younis, Israel said its forces killed a number of gunmen, including two militants who emerged firing from a tunnel. Residents reported several Israeli air strikes and non-stop tank fire in the city’s east.
In Washington, a senior State Department official said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israel’s strategic affairs minister on Thursday, and told him Israel needs to do more to protect civilians in its offensive in southern Gaza.
Israeli troops reached the heart of Khan Younis on Wednesday in a new phase of the war, now entering its third month. Health officials said three people were killed there on Thursday.
Ambulances and relatives rushed the wounded into the city’s Nasser hospital, but even the floor space inside was full. Two badly wounded children lay on a trolley and a bloodstained young boy lay screaming among the patients on the floor.
Those who escape violence face an increasingly desperate struggle to survive.
Ibrahim Mahram, who fled to Al Mawasi, said five families were sharing a tent in the former Bedouin village, which refugee organisations say lacks shelter, food and other necessities.