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    Dozens of Palestinians killed in Gaza as Hamas official vows to ‘break’ Israel

    By Nidal al-Mughrabi

    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli forces fought Palestinian militants in the north and centre of the Gaza Strip on Friday as Khaled Meshaal, a senior official in Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement, said its six-month-old battle with Israel would “break the enemy soon”.

    Most Israeli troops have been pulled out of the Palestinian enclave in preparation for an assault on its southernmost city Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering, but fighting has continued in various areas.

    Residents of Al-Nusseirat camp in central Gaza said dozens were dead or wounded after Israeli bombardment from air, land and sea that had followed a surprise ground assault on Thursday, and that houses and two mosques had been destroyed.

    Health officials said earlier that six people had been killed in strikes on the cinder-block camp, which has housed Palestinian refugee families since 1948, with around 70 wounded, including three Palestinian journalists.

    In Gaza City, Palestinian health officials said at least 25 people had been killed and several wounded in an Israeli airstrike on a house in the Al-Daraj neighbourhood. Gaza’s health ministry said 89 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli military strikes in the space of 24 hours.

    The Israeli military (IDF) said in a statement that it was pursuing “a precise intelligence-based operation” against militants and their infrastructure in central Gaza.

    “Over the past day, IDF fighter jets struck over 60 terror targets in the Gaza Strip, including underground launch posts, military infrastructure and sites in which armed terrorists operated,” it said. “In parallel, IDF artillery struck terrorist infrastructure in the central Gaza Strip.”

    In a statement, Hamas said Israel’s bombardment in Al-Nusseirat targeted civilian homes and property “after failing to achieve any military accomplishment on the ground or to implement any of its criminal agendas by displacing our people”.

    Israel denies deliberately targeting civilians, accusing Hamas of using residential buildings for cover. Hamas denies this.

    Meshaal, who lives in exile and heads Hamas’ political office in the diaspora, spoke at an event in Doha, Qatar to mourn members of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s family killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Wednesday.

    “This is not the final round,” Meshaal said, referring to the current war. “It is an important round on the path of liberating Palestine and defeating the Zionist project.”

    At least 33,634 Palestinians, including 89 in the past 24 hours, have been killed since the Israeli offensive began, Gaza’s health ministry said in an update on Friday, with most of the 2.3 million population displaced and much of the densely populated enclave demolished.

    The war began when Hamas led a lightning cross-border attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage. Around 130 are still being held incommunicado in Gaza, Israel says.

    Deflecting repeated U.S. calls for restraint, Israel vows to storm Rafah because, it says, significant Hamas combat forces are hiding there after being routed elsewhere.

    In the latest sign that an Israeli assault on Rafah could be imminent, warplanes dropped leaflets on a western neighbourhood asking for information about the hostages.

    “To residents of Tel Al-Sultan, look carefully around you, the hostages could be somewhere near you. If you want to protect your families and your future, don’t hesitate to provide us with any information about the hostages and their captors,” the leaflets read.

    The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

    (Reporting and writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich)

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