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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gaza fighting intensifies as Israel pulls out of hostage talks

By Hazem Balousha, Liz Sly and Kareem Fahim Washington Post

AMMAN, Jordan – Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza on Saturday, intensifying the renewed bombardment of the enclave for a second day as hopes faded that a collapsed truce deal could be revived.

Some of the strikes were in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had taken refuge after the Israeli military had told them to go for their safety. Israel has said that it believes Hamas commanders have also sought refuge there.

Strikes were also carried out in the Jabalya refugee camp in the north and the Shujaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City, where initial reports suggested there had been many casualties. Despite Israel’s shift to the south, its forces are still encountering Hamas militants in northern Gaza, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said at a news conference Saturday.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that at least 193 people have been killed and 652 injured since the collapse of a weeklong humanitarian pause heralded the resumption of fighting between Israel and Hamas on Friday.

The Israel Defense Forces reported hitting 400 targets since Friday, suggesting that this second phase of the war will be at least as intense as the first. At least 50 strikes were carried out in and around the southern town of Khan Younis, the IDF said, signaling an expansion of the campaign to the south.

The seven-day pause brought a respite from seven weeks of fighting, enabling the release by Hamas of 134 hostages, most of them Israelis, in return for around 400 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel under a deal negotiated mainly by Qatar.

The negotiations involving Qatari, Israeli and U.S. officials had continued in the Qatari capital, Doha, even after the fighting resumed and Israeli military officials had indicated a readiness to implement another pause if mediators could persuade Hamas to release more hostages.

But later Saturday, Israel announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had recalled the Israeli negotiators, saying the talks on further hostage releases had reached an “impasse.”

A statement from Netanyahu’s office blamed Hamas for the failure, saying the militant group had failed to implement an agreement to release all the women and children it kidnapped.

Israeli officials meanwhile indicated that this second phase of the war would continue until Israel had achieved its goal of eradicating Hamas.

“The war will be ongoing for whatever time it takes to completely destroy Hamas and get back the hostages,” Israeli government spokesman Ofir Gendelman told reporters Saturday.

Lerner said the IDF used the pause in fighting to resupply and study its strategy for a “long war” that is “not bound by time.”

The renewed violence has brought fresh misery to Gaza’s 2 million residents, swamping the territory’s crippled hospitals with scores of new injuries as the United Nations warns that medical supplies are running out.

On Saturday, the Gaza Health Ministry issued its first updated casualty figures in three weeks, saying a total of 15,207 people have been killed and over 40,652 injured since the outbreak of hostilities on Oct. 7. The initial Hamas attack on Israel that triggered the war killed around 1,200 people in Israel.

A spokesman for the Palestinian Civil Defense in Gaza said that a series of Israeli strikes east of Gaza City on Saturday killed at least 60 people and leveled dozens of apartment buildings, adding that hundreds of other residents were feared dead under the rubble. The spokesman, Mahmoud Basal, said bodies could not be extracted immediately “because we don’t have equipment.”

The strikes, in the Shujaiya neighborhood, left what he said were “10 big holes” and flattened houses. Footage of the aftermath broadcast on Al Jazeera showed mounds of crushed concrete and rebar over a large area, as people searched for survivors. Residents interviewed on the broadcast said there has been about 50 buildings in the destroyed area, including multistory buildings.

In the south, the increasing strikes instilled new panic among civilians who had escaped from the north in the belief they would be safer there. Israel dropped leaflets advising residents to move from some specific neighborhoods to others, but people who have been displaced multiple times said they were confused and believed nowhere was safe.

“Every time they say, ‘Move to a safe place,’ and when we move we find it’s not safe,” said Najwa Khalil, 36, a mother of two. She said she relocated with her family on Saturday for the fourth time since the war began, initially from the north to the south, and most recently from the Qahara neighborhood east of Khan Younis to the western edge of the city after receiving a recorded warning from the Israelis to move.

Khalil said she and her family were now cowering in a single room listening to intense bombardments nearby. “I don’t know, literally, where to go. It is terrifying and unbearable,” she said.

The delivery of humanitarian supplies resumed on Saturday after being suspended on Friday but at a far lower level than was the case during the pause, with 50 aid trucks entering Gaza across the border with Egypt, according to the Palestine Red Crescent Society.

U.N. officials have also warned that Gazans are at risk of dying of hunger and disease as the medical system deteriorates and food runs short, raising fears that the expanding violence combined with a humanitarian crisis will force an exodus of Gaza residents to neighboring Egypt, something Egypt has said it will not allow.

Vice President Kamala Harris told Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi at a meeting in Dubai on Saturday that the United States would not permit the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza, or the West Bank where violence has also been intensifying.

She added that the United States will also not accept the “besiegement” of Gaza or the redrawing of the borders of Gaza, calling for “a clear political horizon for the Palestinian people towards a state of their own,” according to a White House statement.

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Sly reported from London and Fahim from Beirut.